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Utah Senators Urged to Oppose Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

Feb. 28, 2002

Utah Senators Urged to Oppose Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

Nuclear Waste Shipments through Utah Pose Unacceptable Risks

SALT LAKE CITY ? Utah?s state Senate should oppose plans for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, public interest, consumer advocacy and environmental groups said today. Senate Joint Resolution 14, introduced by state Sen. Gene Davis, would urge Utah?s U.S. congressional delegation to oppose the repository project; a final vote in Congress is expected this spring.

The Yucca Mountain Project would introduce new risks along proposed nuclear waste transportation routes and play into the hands of the Private Fuel Storage consortium, which is proposing a parallel project for high-level nuclear waste storage in Utah, the groups said.

“Federal government rejection of the Yucca Mountain Project would undermine Private Fuel Storage?s efforts to bring nuclear waste to Utah,” said Lisa Gue, a policy analyst with Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. “Without a Yucca Mountain repository on the horizon, PFS can?t claim that a nuclear waste storage in Utah would be temporary. And even if a repository opens, it won?t be able to contain all the waste projected to be generated by U.S. nuclear reactors.”

Yucca Mountain, located approximately 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only site being considered as the permanent dumping ground for 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) weapons facilities. On Feb. 14, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham officially recommended that the repository be developed, but scientific review panels have cautioned that the DOE?s data is incomplete. According to the presidentially appointed Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, “the technical basis for the DOE?s repository performance estimates is weak to moderate.”

Yucca Mountain is in an earthquake zone, and critics fear that radiation from the proposed repository would contaminate drinking water and the surrounding environment. Last month, a coalition of 232 environmental and public interest organizations from 50 states and the District of Columbia delivered a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reject the Yucca Mountain Project.

“Utahns should know better than to trust the assurances of the Department of Energy when it says that the job has been done properly, the program is safe and there is no danger,” said Steve Erickson of the Citizens Education Project. “After all, these are the same people who gave us the fallout from above-ground atomic tests.”

The DOE?s preliminary route maps show that if the repository project is approved, more than 90 percent of nuclear transports would pass through Utah – totaling nearly 46,000 truck shipments along I-80, I-84 and I-15 if the waste is sent mostly by truck, and up to 9,000 train shipments if the waste is shipped mostly by rail. An accident involving a nuclear waste shipment could cause billions of dollars of damage and threaten the environment and public health, according to experts hired by the states of Utah and Nevada.

Nuclear shipments also would pose a security risk, since moving targets are harder to protect than stationary ones. Following the terrorist attacks last fall, at least 10 people were arrested on charges of possessing fraudulent permits to haul hazardous materials and radioactive waste.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has sponsored at least two resolutions adopted by the Western Governors Association, expressing concern about the security and safety of transporting high-level radioactive waste.

“Utah has already been forced to shoulder more than its fair share of this country?s nuclear burden,” said HEAL Utah Spokesman, Jason Groenewold. “Our politicians must take a clear stance against this disastrous proposal that would jeopardize our health, safety and environment for the special interests of the nuclear industry.”