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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ignores Public Health and Safety; Sides with Nuclear Industry on Yucca Mountain Dump Proposal

Dec. 6, 2001

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ignores Public Health and Safety; Sides with Nuclear Industry on Yucca Mountain Dump Proposal

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Concerned citizens and representatives of national environmental and public interest groups demonstrated their opposition to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump outside a media briefing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held today. The Chamber of Commerce, together with the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, recently launched a lobbying campaign in support of the nuclear waste dump proposal.

“This is another disappointing instance of the business lobby abandoning the health and safety concerns of the communities in which they operate,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

In addition, there appears to be a lack of solidarity among Chamber of Commerce members over the issue. Apparently, the Chamber did not bother to seek approval from its 3,000 state and local chambers before launching its pro-repository campaign. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the third largest in the country, officially opposes the nuclear dump proposal and has resigned from the U.S. Chamber in protest.

Yucca Mountain, located about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nev., is the only site being considered as a potential repository for 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from U.S. Department of Energy weapons sites and commercial nuclear power plants across the country. Despite numerous unresolved technical, environmental and policy issues, the pro-nuclear Bush administration appears committed to pursuing the project. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is expected to formally recommend the Yucca Mountain site early next year, but it faces an uncertain future in Congress.

Yucca Mountain is in a seismically active area and lies above an aquifer that is the only source of drinking water for area residents. Opponents of the repository project are concerned that radioactivity would eventually leak into the groundwater. High-level nuclear waste remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter-million years.

Spokespeople for the Chamber of Commerce campaign have brushed aside the fundamental question of the site?s suitability and have tried to claim that it?s better to have all the nation?s nuclear waste in one spot, rather than scattered across the country. However, Yucca Mountain will not contain all of the country?s nuclear waste. This waste must be stored on-site at nuclear power plants for at least five years before it can be moved anywhere, and even then, the proposed repository is not big enough to store all the waste projected to be generated by the currently operating U.S. reactors.

“The repository proposal does nothing to resolve security concerns at U.S. nuclear power plants,” said Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “To the contrary, the repository design features massive, exposed surface operations, which would establish a larger, highly vulnerable and potentially more devastating target for attack, close to a major population center.”

Further, the prospect of shipping 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to Nevada raises other safety and security concerns. A severe transportation crash or terrorist attack could have grave environmental and health consequences and result in billions of dollars in damages.

“Tens of thousands of shipments of dangerous nuclear waste would pass through as many as 45 states, and no one can guarantee that accidents won?t happen,” Kamps said. “This unprecedented nuclear transportation scheme would introduce new risks all along the highways and railways of this country.”

The Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, the other sponsor of the pro-repository campaign, is a spin-off of the nuclear industry?s lobbying organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“Long-lasting radioactive waste is the ugly underbelly of nuclear power, and the nuclear industry is desperate to sell policy-makers on an ?out of sight, out of mind? solution to this problem,” Hauter said. “Now that the Yucca Mountain project faces an uncertain future, the nuclear industry has turned to its friends in the business community to help market this disastrous idea. But problems with the project extend far beyond the realm of marketing, and certainly cannot be resolved by the Chamber of Commerce.”