Question: What pending federal legislation would affect the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump?
Nevada has been battling Yucca Mountain for more than two decades, but this year the fight has taken on added urgency as new legislation in Congress seeks to accelerate construction of the proposed dump and to dramatically increase the amount of nuclear waste that would be buried only 90 minutes from Las Vegas.
Legislation authored by the Bush administration and introduced by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) would eliminate important health and safety regulations now in place to protect Nevada families and would limit challenges against the dump during the licensing process.
This legislative package would also strip Nevada’s ability to protect local water supplies against contamination, by denying the state the authority to declare that providing water for Yucca Mountain is not in the best interest of our residents. Allowing such a precedent to be set would overturn existing Nevada law and threatens our ability to protect and manage one of our most important natural resources.
In an attempt to head off requirements that the Bush administration begin exploring locations for a second high-level waste dump outside Nevada, the legislation seeks to nearly double the amount of waste that would be shipped to Nevada by eliminating the current 77,000-ton limit for Yucca Mountain and replacing it with a new, higher cap.
Increasing the amount of radioactive garbage stored at Yucca Mountain will require thousands of additional nuclear waste shipments across the U.S. and through communities large and small, including Las Vegas. Trucks and trains carrying this deadly waste to Nevada are prone to accidents and will be prime targets for terrorists looking to make a radioactive dirty bomb. Despite this danger, President Bush has called for a new global nuclear partnership that would actually open the door to allow waste from other nations to be buried at Yucca Mountain.
Known as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, this secretive proposal seeks to export nuclear power to developing nations, with the U.S. agreeing to take back any radioactive waste produced by reactors covered under the program. Given that Yucca Mountain remains the only location targeted for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste, you can bet the Bush administration is counting on Nevada to house this global radioactive garbage.
While the current proposal before Congress would set a new limit of 120,000 tons on the amount of waste that can be stored at Yucca Mountain, nuclear industry allies have already made the case that there is enough room inside the proposed dump to hold all the nuclear waste in the world, and that all limits on the size of the proposed repository should be scrapped.
Despite the Administration’s desire to push forward on Yucca Mountain, the good news is that the project is falling further and further behind schedule. Support for the proposed repository is collapsing due to enormous costs to taxpayers, massive technical problems and a growing awareness across America that this project is destined to fail and that it presents an unacceptable risk to families in Nevada and those living along transportation routes where waste will be carried.
Nevadans remain overwhelmingly opposed to the President’s plans to turn our state into a nuclear garbage dump. We recognize the only safe solution available today is to keep nuclear waste at the plants where it is produced. Waste stored on-site can safely remain in place for the next 100 years and it avoids the need for thousands of shipments of deadly nuclear waste from across the U.S. and around the globe.
Legislation I introduced last year would strip funding for Yucca Mountain to pay nuclear plant operators for keeping waste on-site and out of Nevada. Nearly 40 nuclear power plants in the U.S. have been given permission to utilize on-site dry cask storage technology, and more are expected to follow suit. In the meantime, I continue to work with the other members of the Nevada delegation to generate support for keeping nuclear waste at the sites where it is produced and for blocking White House desires to change the law in order to speed the opening of Yucca Mountain and to expand nuclear power around the globe.