Statement of Amy Shollenberger, Senior Policy Analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, on New Energy Department Guidelines for Nuclear Waste Storage

Nov. 30, 1999

Statement of Amy Shollenberger, Senior Policy Analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, on New Energy Department Guidelines for Nuclear Waste Storage

The Department of Energy’s proposal to change existing guidelines for selecting a nuclear waste storage facility is yet another blatant attempt to ensure that Yucca Mountain is approved as a geologic repository for radioactive waste, even though all of the evidence suggests that it would endanger the public, the environment and future generations. The department released its proposed rule, “General Guidelines for the Recommendation of Sites for Nuclear Waste Repositories,” today.

The new rule would change site guidelines issued in 1984. Pursuant to federal law (the Nuclear Waste Policy Act), those guidelines specified certain factors (e.g., hydrology, geophysics, seismic activity) that would disqualify any site from consideration as a repository. DOE’s proposed rule would eliminate individual disqualifiers — thus removing a strong barrier to Yucca Mountain’s approval as a storage facility, because scientific evidence shows that Yucca Mountain would not meet the 1984 guidelines. This elimination of disqualifying criteria directly contradicts federal law, and it is unacceptable.

Currently, Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the only site being considered as a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste. The 1984 site guidelines contain a disqualifying condition related to groundwater travel time. DOE has not yet determined whether the Yucca Mountain site can meet this requirement, yet the proposed rule would eliminate it, thus reducing the level of assurance that the groundwater around Yucca Mountain will be safe. This action, coupled with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to eliminate a separate groundwater radiation release standard, could effectively doom the aquifer beneath Yucca Mountain, causing it to be contaminated with severe radiation and endanger the area’s people and environment.

DOE must not be allowed to alter federal law with this rule. DOE must be required to ensure that Yucca Mountain is safe before it can recommend that the nation’s radioactive waste be stored there. It appears that DOE will continue to try any avenue available to ensure that waste gets sent to Yucca Mountain — despite the dangers.

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