[ RadSafe ] Nuclear waste dump faces new roadblocks

Sandy Perle sandyfl at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 25 11:06:24 CST 2006

Nuclear waste dump faces new roadblocks

WASHINGTON - When Congress targeted Nevada as the nation's nuclear 
waste dumping ground, the state didn't have the political power to 
say no. Twenty years later, the most ardent foe of the        Yucca 
Mountain nuclear waste dump is about to become Senate majority 
leader. Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid (news, bio, voting 
record)'s new job, which gives him control over what legislation 
reaches the Senate floor, could deal a crippling blow to the already 
stumbling project. 
Among Reid's first acts after this month's election was to convene a 
conference call with home-state reporters to declare Yucca Mountain 
"dead right now."

"It sure is different now than when I came (to the Senate) in 1986," 
the senator observed.

The dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas is planned as the first 
national repository for radioactive waste. It's supposed to hold 
77,000 tons of the material - from commercial power plants reactors 
and defense sites across the nation - for thousands of years. About 
50,000 tons of the waste is now stored in temporary sites at 65 power 
plants in 31 states. Reid would leave all of it in place.

Originally targeted to open in 1998, Yucca Mountain has been 
repeatedly set back by lawsuits, money shortfalls and scientific 
controversies. The Energy Department's best-case opening date is now 

The effort to create a national storage site has already cost about 
$9 billion, $6.5 billion of which has been spent on Yucca. Four years 
ago, the Energy Department estimated the project would cost $58 
billion to build and operate for the first 100 years. New cost 
projections are being worked up, and they are expected to total more 
than $70 billion.

The department proposed legislation earlier this year meant to fix 
problems with the dump, which is a mounting liability to taxpayers 
because the government was contractually obligated to take nuclear 
waste off utilities' hands starting in 1998. Energy Department 
officials say at least one legislative change - formally withdrawing 
land around the dump site - is needed before construction can begin.

Reid, however, pledged after the Nov. 7 election that not only will 
no bill to help Yucca Mountain reach the Senate floor under his 
leadership, funding for the project also will dry up quickly. Annual 
spending on the dump that has ranged between $450 million and $550 
million in recent years "will be cut back significantly, that will be 
for sure," he vowed.

Reid said he couldn't single-handedly kill the dump outright, 
something that would require a vote of Congress and approval by       
 President Bush. But he added: "There's not much to kill."

The project also is losing some of its most persistent supporters as 
Republicans relinquish control of Congress. Senate Energy Committee 
Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has been a vocal advocate for years; 
he'll be replaced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (news, bio, voting record), D-
N.M., who supports Yucca Mountain but is viewed by Nevada officials 
as more open to their viewpoints.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., who will 
chair the Environment and Public Works Committee with authority over 
some aspects of the project, is a vocal Yucca Mountain opponent. 
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., worked unsuccessfully 
to corral opposition to the project in a crucial House vote four 
years ago, when she was minority whip.

Administration and industry officials insist the changing of the 
guard on Capitol Hill won't be the death knell for the project. About 
1,500 people in Nevada are now employed there.

Yucca Mountain also has lured research grants to the University of 
Nevada, and even Reid aides say some spending should be maintained.

"I don't think the program's gone off the edge by any means," said 
David Blee, executive director the U.S. Transport Council, an 
industry group that works on nuclear waste transportation. "It'll be 
more complicated and take a more creative approach, and more of an 
approach outside the (Washington) beltway."

Supporters say they will now focus on submitting a required license 
application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Energy 
Department wants to do that in 2008 and it's not dependent on 
congressional action, though severe budget cuts would be an 

Reid says putting the highly radioactive wastes in dry storage casks 
at power plants will keep it safe for 100 years or more. To industry 
officials and the Energy Department, that's no answer.

"Leaving everything where it is, is not a solution to the problem," 
said Edward F. "Ward" Sproat, director of the department's Office of 
Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

Failure to pursue the Yucca project, Sproat said, "is pushing the 
solution off to future generations, which is pretty much what's been 
happening with this program up until now." 

Sandy Perle 
Senior Vice President, Technical Operations 
Global Dosimetry Solutions, Inc. 
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614

Tel: (949) 296-2306 / (888) 437-1714 Extension 2306 
Fax:(949) 296-1144

Global Dosimetry Website: http://www.dosimetry.com/ 
Personal Website: http://sandy-travels.com/ 

More information about the RadSafe mailing list