, July 30, 2009 (ENS) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has achieved his long-held plan of doing away with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Following conversations with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the White House, Senator Reid today announced that the administration and the Energy Department have agreed to cut off all funding to pursue a license application for the Yucca Mountain Project in the 2011 budget. It had been approved as the nation's only permanent geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and Department of Defense high-level radioactive waste.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"This is a major victory for Nevada," Reid said. "I am pleased that President Obama has lived up to his promise to me and all Nevadans by working with me to kill the Yucca Mountain Project. I look forward to continuing my work with the President and his administration to find responsible, alternative solutions for dealing with nuclear waste."
In 2002, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed Public Law 107-200, which approved Yucca Mountain as the site for the repository at Yucca Mountain. On June 3, 2008, the Energy Department submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking construction authorization for the repository.
Currently, the 77,000 tons of high level nuclear waste that were supposed to go to Yucca Mountain are held in temporary surface storage facilities located at 131 sites in 39 states.
The federal government sought approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license that would safely store the highly radioactive waste for a 10,000-year regulatory compliance period.
The proposed site for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is on federal land at the edge of the Nevada Nuclear Test site. The volcanic area has fractured, and critics expressed concerns that water moving through the fractures into the facility could corrode the containers holding the waste, releasing radioactivity into the environment.
Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Photo by then Congressman Jim Gibbons, who is now Governor of Nevada)
Since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain, excluding underground nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site.
With today's agreement, the only funding allocated for Yucca Mountain will be used to conclude the work being done at the site, bringing what Reid calls "the ill-conceived project" to its end.
This agreement follows the $27 million Reid cut from Yucca's 2010 license application funding in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill that passed the Senate Wednesday.
The license application funding was cut from President Obama's requested $56 million to $29 million. As passed by the Senate, bill follows the President's budget level of $196.8 million to terminate Yucca Mountain and fund the Secretary of Energy's Blue Ribbon Commission to develop alternative nuclear waste management solutions.
The Yucca Mountain project had suffered many setbacks such as the discovery in 2005 that emails sent by a U.S. Geological Survey staffer between May 1998 and March 2000 "indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work," the USGS said in a statement at the time.
The staffer was preparing computer models on water infiltration and climate at Yucca Mountain that relate to the potential for the release of radioactivity from the repository.
Reid said at the time that the revelation "proves once again that DOE must cheat and lie to make Yucca Mountain look safe."
The late Western Shoshone leader Corbin Harney at one of numerous Yucca Mountain protest actions. (Photo credit unknown)
Then, in 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to revise its dose limits for people exposed to radiation from Yucca Mountain to satisfy a July 2004 court order to extend the standards' duration from 10,000 to one million years. The court also ordered the EPA to require that the Department of Energy consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, and corrosion of the waste packages to safely contain the waste during the one million-year period.
Many Nevada citizens' groups protested the repository, including Native Americans. They say that Yucca Mountain is located within the Western Shoshone Nation and has long been a place of powerful spiritual energy for the Shoshone and the Paiute.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, NEI, an industry association, supported the Yucca Mountain facility, but now accepts the new political reality.
Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president for governmental affairs, commented today, "In the area of used nuclear fuel management, NEI recommends a program that includes at-reactor storage, centralized interim storage, research, development, demonstration and deployment of recycling technology, and eventual disposal of the byproducts resulting from recycling uranium fuel at a national repository."
"Within that framework," said Flint, "the proposed funding level of $196 million for the Yucca Mountain repository program, though far from ideal, reflects current political realities."
NEI believes the blue-ribbon commission to be named by Energy Secretary Steven Chu must be established soon and assigned credible members and an appropriate charter. "It should define the policy direction that the administration proposes for the management of both commercial used nuclear fuel and government nuclear waste," Flint said.
Flint said there must now be an end to the collection of hundreds of millions of dollars each for the Nuclear Waste Fund. Established by Congress in 1982, the utilities collect one-tenth of a cent for every kilowatt-hour used from consumers of nuclear generated electricity to pay into the waste fund for the nation's used nuclear fuel disposal program.
Until the blue-ribbon commission makes it recommendations and Congress amends the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to implement a new used fuel program, "it is unreasonable for DOE to continue collecting approximately $800 million per year from electricity customers and ratepayers for the Nuclear Waste Fund," said Flint. "The fund has a balance in excess of $22 billion and additional collections cannot be justified until the extent of changes to the existing program is determined."
Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, calls Yucca Mountain, the "failed $100 billion dinosaur in the Nevada desert."
"Waste from reactors can be safely stored in dry-cask storage at current locations for the next 100 years, Berkley said. "Meanwhile the nuclear industry continues to press lawsuits seeking to collect billions in damages from taxpayers via the U.S. Treasury."
"Ending Yucca Mountain now," she said, "will allow us to begin addressing this liability merry-go-round."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
|International Hydropower Association accused of excluding indigenous peoples and supporting Taib’s corruption USCC Releases Model Rule for Composting Operations ADA Carbon Solutions Announces New Hire of Vice President of Sales and Key Executive Promotions|