Yucca Mountain Transport Danger Dramatized on West Wing LAS VEGAS, Nevada, April 3, 2002 (ENS) - The nuclear industry has a fat war chest to lobby for the permanent disposal of the nation's high level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but the project's opponents including Nevada lawmakers have been failing to bring in big funds to fight it.

A report issued Monday by the pressure group Public Citizen Critical Mass said a review of lobby disclosures found the nuclear power industry spent more than $25 million to lobby Congress in 2000, the last time nuclear waste storage in Nevada was debated.


Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn is a determined opponent of Yucca Mountain. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
But Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn and U.S. Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign had little luck with their pitch last week for $10 million for a national TV ad campaign that will urge members of Congress to vote No on Yucca Mountain.

The Yucca Mountain proposal, which President George W. Bush has approved, means that 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods and other highly radioactive material generated by power reactors and nuclear weapons production must travel by road and rail across the country to Nevada.

Currently, the waste is stored in temporary surface storage facilities located at 131 sites in 39 states. Nevada is, by law, the only site being considered for the nuclear waste dump.

If Yucca Mountain is permitted to go forward, radioactive waste will travel the nation's highways and railroads through 43 states and thousands of communities, day after day for upwards of 40 years, the governor warns. "A severe transportation accident or successful terrorist attack in an urban area could release radioactive materials to the environment, causing hundreds of latent cancer fatalities and costing hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars for cleanup and compensation."


Martin Sheen plays President Jeb Bartlett on "West Wing." (Photo credit unknown)
The concern over an accident on any route over which the waste could travel will be dramatized tonight on "West Wing," the NBC television series about life in the White House. The episode will feature a story line about the crash of a truck carrying uranium fuel rods in a remote Idaho tunnel. Martin Sheen, who plays President Jeb Bartlett on the political series, is an outspoken environmental activist who has been arrested at several protests.

Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley will be watching "West Wing" tonight with her constituents in Las Vegas. An opponent of Yucca Mountain, as are all Nevada lawmakers, Berkley has on her website a video showing a TOW missile penetrating a nuclear waste cask in a U.S. Army test. The video demonstrates the dangers of nuclear waste transportation, and makes the case for on-site storage, Berkley says.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommended the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas to President Bush as scientifically suitable to receive the nation's high level nuclear waste "based on sound science and compelling national interest."

The waste must be safely contained for at least 10,000 years. Abraham says he relies on more than 20 years and $4 billion in scientific study that demonstrates Yucca Mountain is scientifically and technically suitable for development. He makes the case for the Yucca Mountain dump in volumes of material on the Energy Department website.

Senator Harry Reid says President Bush "betrayed our trust and endangered the American public by deciding to ship 77,000 tons of nuclear waste across the entire country and store it at Yucca Mountain." Reid's website displays a map showing in detail, state by state, the routes by which the waste would travel.

"A central repository would actually increase the risk of terrorism," says Berkley, "by guaranteeing that hundreds of nuclear targets will be traveling on America's roads and rails every day for at least the next 30 years. Also, even if a central repository is created, nuclear waste will never be entirely removed from on-site locations; for, as plants continue to generate waste, they must also continue to store that waste until a long term solution has been found."


Yucca Mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas (Photo courtesy U.S. Energy Dept.)
Berkley points to a safe alternative to transport advanced by PECO (Philadelphia Electric Company). Under this plan, the nation's 103 nuclear power plants build storage facilities and, in return, reduce their payments to the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund. The U.S. Energy Department becomes titleholder, owner and operator of the waste and facilities. "This is an attractive solution because it lets utilities remove spent fuel from their reactors, as well as costs and liabilities from their books," the congresswoman says.

President Bush's approval of Yucca Mountain will be vetoed by Governor Guinn on behalf of the state of Nevada. The proposal then goes to Congress, which by a simple majority vote could override Nevada's veto.

To influence public opinion away from Yucca Mountain, Guinn had hoped to raise $4 to $6 million in addition to the $4 million appropriated by the Nevada Legislature last year for legal expenses and a public information campaign.

So far, donations amount to about $2 million including $1 million from Clark County. Bob Loux, administrator for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says a few private donations have come in, the largest $300,000 from the Nevada Resort Association which represents the gaming industry.

Tonight's episode of West Wing is a bit of free television advertising for the anti-Yucca Mountain cause.