|DOE Approves Nevada Nuclear Waste Site|
Dateline: Jan. 12, 2002
Citing "compelling national interests," the Department of Energy has notified the state of Nevada that construction of the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump would go ahead.
In a letter to Nevada's Republican Governor Kenny Guinn, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham informed Guinn of his "intention to recommend to the President approval of the Yucca Mountain site for the development of a nuclear waste repository."
The decision of whether to approve and license the site now rests with President Bush. Should Bush approve the site, Nevada's only recourse would be an appeal to Congress asking lawmakers to override the president's action.
Since the Yucca Mountain dump site, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas was singled out by Congress 15 years ago, Nevada's government and a majority of the state's citizens have opposed the plan. Nevada legislators contend that no other sites were considered by the U.S. Congress, because lawmakers from more populace states did not want nuclear waste in their states.
Nevada politicians, while angered by Abraham's action, concede that it was expected and vowed to continue fighting against the dump.
America's nuclear waste, now amounting to over 40,000 tons and growing by 2,000 tons a year, is currently being stored at nuclear power plants and industrial reactors in 39 states. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act passed by Congress in 1982, the waste should have been transferred to a single federally licensed repository by 1998.
Opponents argue that 13 years of scientific study by the government have failed prove Yucca Mountain to be a safe repository for up to 77,000 tons of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and government weapons programs that will remain "hot" for over 10,000 years. Fears that earthquakes, volcanic activity and existing geologic faults could allow the waste to contaminate ground water have not been adequately addressed, say protestors.
The Energy Department contends that all safety concerns at Yucca Mountain have either been resolved or will be addressed during final design phases to be completed after federal licensing is granted.
In his letter to Gov. Guinn, Energy Secretary Abraham declares that increased threat of terrorist attacks make it imperative that the nation's nuclear waste be confined in a single facility immediately.
"There are compelling national interests that require us to complete the siting process and move forward with the development of a repository," writes Abraham, who goes on to list five examples of the project's importance to national security:
- A repository is important to our national security. We must advance our non-proliferation goals by providing a secure place to dispose of any spent fuel and other waste products that result from decommissioning unneeded nuclear weapons, and ensure the effective operations of our nuclear Navy by providing a secure place to dispose of its spent nuclear fuel.
- A repository is important to the secure disposal of nuclear waste. Spent nuclear fuel, high level radioactive waste, and excess plutonium for which there is no complete disposal pathway without a repository are currently stored at over 131 sites in 39 States.
- We should consolidate the nuclear wastes to enhance protection against terrorists attacks by moving them to one underground location that is far from population centers.
- A repository is important to our energy security. We must ensure that nuclear power, which provides 20% of the nation's electric power, remains an important part of our domestic energy production.
- And a repository is important to our efforts to protect the environment. We must clean up our defense waste sites permanently and safely dispose of other high level nuclear waste.
In summing up his opinion of Abraham's action, Nevada Gov. Guinn stated simply, "This decision stinks."