The Wrong State, the Wrong Mountain

News & Politics

In 1987, Congress passed what Nevadans call the "Screw Nevada" bill. This bill, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, later amended in 1987, said that Yucca Mountain in the State of Nevada was to become the Nation's first national repository for high-level nuclear waste, the deadliest substance known to man.

Government agencies call it "The Yucca Mountain Project." This bill was the consequence of an earlier ill-conceived piece of legislation mandating congress to find a permanent repository to store waste generated by nuclear reactors. So it was mandatory that Congress choose the place. Unluckily, Nevada won.

But there was a nasty little surprise lurking within the bill that the nuclear energy industry and the administration hoped people would not notice. The unpleasant surprise? Transporting nuclear waste to Nevada would endanger millions of Americans. No one was supposed to think about the fact that in order to get the waste to Nevada, it would have to travel by train or truck through 43 other states, within one-half mile of 50 million Americans, including many of you now reading this. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act might be more aptly named the "screw America" bill.

We at Citizen Alert, as a statewide grassroots environmental justice organization, have been fighting this nuclear waste war since 1975. At that time, the government was researching two sites, one on the East coast and one in the West. Nevada was on the short list. In 1987 the list got shorter!
Since we began, we have been telling Nevadans this is not safe stuff, contrary to what the government has said. And, guess what? Storing it in a mountain with a troubling geological record will certainly not make it any safer. Yucca Mountain is not a safe repository. It is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic activity. It leaks. It moves. Native Americans long ago started calling it "Moving Hill." We have told Nevadans and everyone who will listen that the decisions concerning Yucca Mountain are not based on science, they are based on politics.

For everyone's sake, we're also doing all we can to address the nuclear waste transportation issues. The Department of Energy (DOE) is resisting our request that shipping casks be "tested to failure."

The casks are called by some "mobile Chernobyls" with good reason. The deadliest substance known to man would be traveling on our highways and railways in containers that have not been tested to the most rigorous engineering standards. No one knows how susceptible these containers are to fire. At what temperature will the walls fail and the deadly contents spew out? Since they haven't been tested to failure, no one knows what stresses the casks can withstand upon impact, say in a crash. What would happen if a cask plummeted into a deep gorge if an accident occurred along one of Nevada's many mountain passes? How vulnerable are the casks to terrorist attacks or an act of sabotage? These vital questions don't have answers.

After promising to make no judgments on storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain unless the science proved it safe, the Administration instead chose to ignore the science aspects, and is making political decisions that could well endanger the health and safety of millions of Americans.

With so much at risk, we fight the Yucca Mountain Project on many fronts, including in the courts. Recently we won an important court decision. The State of Nevada, Citizen Alert, and other environmental groups nationwide sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because we believe they violated the will of Congress.

Congress instructed EPA to use standards established by the National Academy of Sciences that meet radiation exposure limits of 300,000 years for storage of radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain. But with blatant disregard, EPA set a compliance period of 10,000 years. On July 9, 2004, a federal appeals court agreed with Congress. They ordered EPA to either revise the radiation standard following the Academy's recommendation, or ask Congress for legislative authority to deviate from the Academy's recommendations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot proceed with the licensing process until there is a new EPA standard. We believe that this could be the death knell for the Yucca Mountain Project unless DOE can convince Congress to exempt the project from EPA standards.

Could DOE induce Congress to become a co-conspirator in lowering standards and putting the health and safety of the public at risk? We don't know. But we do know the decision is a momentary reprieve, buying us time to educate people about the dangers surrounding the misguided plans for transporting and storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain.

What is the alternative? To answer this question, we work with activist groups nationwide. They are as concerned as we are about putting this deadly radioactive rubbish on the roads. Many live in communities located near reactor sites or at sites where military waste is stored. We all believe the nuclear energy industry has to find a way to reprocess or recycle this waste on site, not transport it. The DOE needs to look at the process of Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) as an alternative to shipping it off to a national repository. HOSS is a process of taking nuclear waste out of the spent fuel pools, hardening the waste, and storing it on site. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said that this waste can safely stay on site for 100 years or more. That way nuclear waste won't be endangering us on our roads and rails and it buys time for research into better storage solutions.

At the heart of this issue is the production of nuclear waste itself. We all need to contact our elected officials and tell them they cannot allow more nukes until the nuclear industry figures out what to do with this deadly substance instead of where to put it! Citizen Alert has joined with other environmental groups in asking Congress and the Administration to aggressively pursue renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and geo-thermal power. We must all stand up to the nuclear power industry, which, with the active help of this Administration, is seeking to build more nuclear power plants! This is irresponsible. We have to say NO! No more.

In Nevada, we soon realized Yucca Mountain is only part of a larger issue that must be of national concern. That's why Citizen Alert is working to inform as many fellow citizens as possible about the dangers of transporting nuclear waste through 43 states to bring it here. People living in communities across the country have no idea that deadly, radioactive nuclear waste, loaded into untested containers, might soon be passing by their homes, their schools, and their places of work. One accident would spell untold disaster.

Our efforts include asking the DOE to hold hearings across the country in big cities and small towns about nuclear waste transportation. We in Nevada know about these dangers because we have been in the center of this storm. We want to work with people across the country to stop this total disregard for our safety. We want you to have the opportunity to make up your own minds about whether you want this "stuff" in your neighborhoods.
DOE doesn't want to hold hearings across the country. They believe that it is unnecessary. Do you?

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