Bush Greenlights Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump


WASHINGTON, DC, February 15, 2002 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today approved the Energy Secretary's recommendation of Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, as the nation's first long term underground repository for high level radioactive waste.


President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy The White House)
Currently, the 77,000 tons of high level nuclear waste, generated by power reactors and nuclear weapons production, is stored in temporary surface storage facilities located at 131 sites in 39 states.

In a letter to Congressional leaders announcing his decision, President Bush said that proceeding with the repository program "is necessary to protect public safety, health, and the nation's security because successful completion of this project would isolate in a geologic repository at a remote location highly radioactive materials now scattered throughout the nation."

"Nuclear energy is the second largest source of U.S. electricity generation and must remain a major component of our national energy policy in the years to come," Bush wrote. "The cost of nuclear power compares favorably with the costs of electricity generation by other sources, and nuclear power has none of the emissions associated with coal and gas power plants."

Bush wrote that if his recommendation becomes effective, it will permit "commencement of the next rigorous stage of scientific and technical review of the repository program through formal licensing proceedings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Successful completion of this program also will redeem the clear Federal legal obligation safely to dispose of commercial spent nuclear fuel that the Congress passed in 1982."


Aerial view of Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Photo courtesy Yucca Mountain Project)
The President's decision outraged Nevada elected officials and environmentalists and delighted the nuclear industry.

Joe Colvin, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, applauded the President. "After almost two decades of exhaustive scientific evaluation showing that the site is suitable to isolate and safely dispose of used nuclear fuel, the federal government is acting responsibly and taking steps to fulfill its obligation to the American people," he said.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, said, "President Bush has betrayed our trust and endangered the American public."

Senator Reid said the President "lied" to him and to the people of Nevada because "just last week in a meeting with Senator [John] Ensign, Governor Guinn and me at the White House [he] again vowed to wait until he received and reviewed all of the scientific evidence on Yucca Mountain. Today President Bush has broken his promise," Reid said because the President had no time to review the final Environmental Impact Statement on Yucca Mountain which he received only last night.


Senator Harry Reid represents Nevada (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"Let's be clear," said Reid, "before getting on a plane to fly over to Asia, President Bush has dropped the equivalent of 100,000 dirty bombs on America," said Reid, referring to the President's week long trip to China, Japan and Korea which starts Saturday.

"I say this because to carry out President Bush's plan would require shipment of nuclear waste on 100,000 trucks or 20,000 rail cars through 43 states. The President has created 100,000 targets of opportunity for terrorists who have proven their capability of hitting targets far less vulnerable than a truck on the open highway," Reid warned.

Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, immediately announced that he will exercise his Notice of Disapproval to the U.S. Congress, known the Governor’s Veto. Congress would then have 90 legislative days in which it could override Guinn's veto on a simple majority vote.


Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
“I am outraged, as are the citizens of Nevada, that this decision would go forward with so many unanswered questions,” Guinn said. “As I mentioned to the President, I believe that we deserve a scientific response to the nearly 300 critical questions the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stated must be resolved before going forward with Yucca Mountain.”

“As a state we are solidly united to continue our fight against Yucca Mountain becoming the nation’s nuclear dump," the governor said.

The state of Nevada has mounted one lawsuit against the waste dump, and state attorneys are preparing to file another legal action challenging the energy secretary's recommendation.

"We will exhaust every option and press our legal case to the limit," vowed Governor Guinn. "The Nevada Legislature, cities, counties and now the private sector have raised $5.4 million toward our fight."


Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham with some of the Yucca Mountain documentation (Photo courtesy DOE)
Citing "compelling national interests" Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham last night formally recommended Yucca Mountain to the President as "scientifically and technically suitable for development." He submitted a final Environmental Impact Statement that he said relies on "more than 20 years and $4 billion in scientific study."

In his letter of recommendation to the President, Secretary Abraham said national interests that require development of a repository include, "energy and national security, homeland security, nuclear nonproliferation policy, secure disposal of nuclear waste, and ongoing efforts to clean up the environment at former nuclear weapons production sites."

In addressing homeland security, Abraham said, "More than 161 million people live within 75 miles of one or more of these sites. The facilities housing these materials were intended to do so on a temporary basis. They should be able to withstand current terrorist threats, but that may not remain the case in the future. These materials would be far better secured in a deep underground repository at Yucca Mountain."

Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, says Abraham's decision was politically motivated. "The recommendation by Spencer Abraham is corrupt and morally bankrupt. All the evidence has indicated that a recommendation right now is dangerously premature, and the height of irresponsibility. Spencer Abraham is a long time proponent of the dump, and he has clearly allowed his personal views and political pressures to influence his judgment."

Abraham said he is satisfied that Yucca Mountain is a safe place for the nation's nuclear waste. "Irrespective of any other considerations, I could not and would not recommend the Yucca Mountain site without having first determined that a repository at Yucca Mountain will bring together the location, natural barriers, and design elements necessary to protect the health and safety of the public."


Project scientists have been studying faults and monitoring earthquakes in the region surrounding Yucca Mountain for 10 years. (Photo courtesy YMP)
But Governor Guinn is far from satisfied. The Department of Energy (DOE) "has failed to prove that nuclear waste will not leak into the water table," he said today. "The General Accounting Office and the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board also support this view. DOE has not completed the site characterization in compliance with the law. Nearly 300 key scientific studies in nine critical areas identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are incomplete."

The governor says he was not provided with the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in time for “meaningful review,” in violation of the intent of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. “Receiving the final EIS just hours before the Presidential decision hardly provides me and the state of Nevada meaningful review,” Governor Guinn said. “Once again, this is an outrage.”

Anna Aurilio, legislative director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, says the White House ignored sound science in approving the Yucca Mountain site. "This is another example of the White House favoring Enron, Entergy and Xxelon over public health and the environment," she said. "Nuclear waste is one of the most dangerous substances created by humans. This waste remains dangerous for at least a quarter of a million years."

The scientific studies conducted by the Energy Department were designed to cover the performance of the repository over the 10,000 year regulatory period.


Map showing road (blue) and rail (red) routes for planned nuclear shipments in Illinois. U.S. Map and one for each of 43 states also online at Senator Reid's website. (Map courtesy Office of Senator Reid)
What worries many critics of Yucca Mountain are the dangers posed by the transportation of high level radioactive waste across the nation by road and rail.

Nevada lawmakers in Congress are analyzing a U.S. Army videotape showing that a metal cask used to store a transport nuclear waste can be damaged by an anti-tank missile of a type common worldwide. A report in the "Las Vegas Sun" newspaper February 10 said the tape shows two experiments conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland on June 25, 1998.

One test explosion created a "softball sized hole all the way through the [metal] container," according to the newspaper which said it had reviewed the tape. The other test cracked a cask surrounded by by metal plus a concrete shield but did not completely penetrate it.

This weekend, a forum for Western states advocates from communities living with nuclear reactors and communities facing proposed high level nuclear waste dumps is being held in Fresno, California, hosted by HOME (Healing Ourselves & Mother Earth) and San Luis Obispo County Grandmothers For Peace.

HOME director Jennifer Viereck said, "Those of us living in the shadow of Yucca Mountain are appalled at the callousness of Secretary Abraham and President Bush. Moving this proposal forward on Valentine's Day shows clearly who loves the nuclear industry in Washington. Given the potential for terrorist attacks on these shipments and the site itself, we are calling this irresponsible scheme to dump on us the Axles of Evil."

Kalynda Tilges, nuclear issues coordinator for Las Vegas based group Citizen Alert, says with this decision the President has aroused the anger of voters across the country, particularly in states through which the radioactive waste will be shipped. "I think that if President Bush is considering running for reelection, he is making a very serious mistake."

Tilges says there will be demonstrations against the decision, and if Yucca Mountain shipments eventually go ahead, "I will be standing in front of the first truck of the first gate they send it from, and I will not be alone. And if I'm not dead, when I get out of jail, I'll go stand in front of the next one. They will bring nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain over my dead body."