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Why Citizen Alert is Opposed to "Interim" Nuclear Waste Storage in Nevada
A Citizen Alert Factsheet
Created 10/2/97

H.R. 1270, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997, is the latest version in a long line of proposed changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The bill has been dubbed "Mobile Chernobyl," because it would set in motion an unprecedented transportation campaign of one of the deadliest substances known to man. Thousands of shipments would travel by highway and rail through 43 states and within range of over 50 million people. Proponents of the dump repeatedly say it is somehow desirable to concentrate all our nuclear waste in one place. Even if that were a good idea, "Mobile Chernobyl" would not accomplish that purpose. As long as nuclear power plants continue to operate, the waste will be generated and stored at multiple sites across the country. In reality, HR 1270 will not create a single storage site, it will simply add on more to the list.

"Mobile Chernobyl" mandates that the interim repository be at the Nevada Test Site, near Yucca Mountain. This is a bad idea for many reasons. It would undermine feasibility studies of Yucca Mountain, by putting intense pressure on regulators to approve the site regardless of its safety and suitability, as well as by diverting funds from the project to be applied to the shipping program. If this proposal becomes law, the credibility of any scientific or technical assessment of Yucca Mountain will be seriously compromised. Furthermore, if the Yucca Mountain site were to be found scientifically or technically unsuitable, the entire, massive shipping program would have to be undertaken a second time.

HR 1270 would also undermine state and federal environmental protections designed to safeguard the public. It would preempt federal safe drinking water standards to allow people, crops, and livestock near Yucca Mountain to receive radiation doses 25 times higher than anywhere else.

Talking points on why interim nuclear waste storage in Nevada is a bad idea

  • It guts environmental standards for a permanent repository and revokes the siting guidelines for the repository (10 CFR part 960) which are used to determine suitability.

  • It prohibits the EPA from promulgating a repository radiation standard and sets a Congressionally mandated radiation standard of 100 millirems. This standard also preempts the Safe Drinking Water Act and equates to a lifetime cancer risk of one excess death for every 286 individuals exposed.

  • It would expose millions of people along transportation corridors to a greater risk of radioactive contamination for many decades to come.

  • It would create undue pressure to approve Yucca Mt. regardless of its safety or suitability.

  • It would create the risk that the entire, massive waste shipment program will have to be undertaken twice, if Yucca Mountain is deemed to be scientifically unsound as a permanent repository.

  • It is just plain unfair to the people of Nevada, who will bear the brunt of the inherent risks of both shipment and storage of the waste, but do not have even one nuclear reactor in their borders, and have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of hosting a repository time and time again.

Background information on the nuclear waste problem
Laws like "Mobile Chernobyl," requiring the federal government to create an interim storage facility for high-level nuclear waste in Nevada, have been proposed repeatedly in the Congress, mainly at the urging of nuclear industry lobbyists. Under this law, nuclear waste from commercial nuclear reactors would be shipped by truck or train from all over the country to the Nevada Test Site, and parked on a huge concrete slab in metal shipping containers near the proposed permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
This waste is so deadly, that any direct contact with it would deliver a fatal dose of radiation almost immediately. It must be handled by remote control from behind heavy shielding. Right now there is about 32,000 tons of waste in fuel pools at reactors. By the time the repository is scheduled to open, it is estimated that there will be well over the 70,000 tons the repository is designed to hold.

When irradiated fuel is removed from a reactor it is placed in a pool of water which helps cool the waste and absorb excess heat and radiation, while it awaits final burial at the proposed repository, if and when it opens. Some waste is currently stored on-site in "dry-cask" storage. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ruled this to be safe for up to 100 years. Nonetheless, most nuclear utilities are hesitant to use dry-cask storage and instead are eager for the government to take control of their waste, and move it to Yucca Mountain or an interim storage site.

The reactors where the waste is now stored are licensed by the NRC and are on solid, stable ground with negligible earthquake activity. By contrast, the area where they propose to ship the waste is among the most seismically active in the country and would not meet the same NRC licensing standards for reactors. Since site characterization studies for the Yucca Mountain dump began, there have been dozens of earthquakes, including a magnitude 5.2 quake in 1992 which caused over a million dollars in damage to government buildings at the Yucca Mountain site. There have been 621 seismic events of a 2.5 magnitude or greater in the last 20 years.

The hundred years in which dry-cask storage remains a safe alternative is plenty of time to review our current policies and be sure that our solution to this difficult, politically volatile problem is the right one. Citizen Alert and many other citizen organizations have long advocated a Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission to reevaluate this country's nuclear waste management policies.

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