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19. Solving the Nuclear Waste Problem With Taxpayers’ Dollars

Source: THE WORKBOOK Date: Fall 1995; “Where Is Nuclear Waste Going-Or Staying?” Author: Don Hancock

SYNOPSIS: After years of effort and millions of dollars spent on campaign contributions and highly paid lobbyists, the nuclear power industry expects Congress to pass legislation that will free the industry of its responsibility for storing commercial spent nuclear waste. The proposed legislation, H.R. 1020—also known as the “industry bill”—will require that all accumulated wastes—estimated to be about 36,000 metric tons by the end of 1997—be moved to Nevada, beginning in 1998.

The problem is that for the past three administrations, the Department of Energy (DOE) has consistently maintained that a nuclear waste repository cannot be opened until at least 2010. That is the projected date to open Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the only site being investigated. In 1995, DOE issued a formal decision that there is no legal requirement that the federal government begin accepting spent fuel in 1998 because a repository will not be available and because the federal government does not currently have authority to provide an interim storage facility.

This has not deterred the nuclear power industry from pushing H.R. 1020. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would require the federal government to open a spent fuel storage facility in Nevada by the 1998 date. And it would impose fines and penalties for missing that deadline. More than 15 utilities filed a lawsuit in 1994, asking the court to require DOE to begin taking their wastes in 1998. The fines and penalties would be a new federal government cost, never included in any previous budget and would, in essence, be a new tax.

The utilities do not seem to be concerned that such a storage facility could not be sited and constructed by the 1998 date if it were to meet existing health, safety, and environmental protection laws and probably not even if all environmental laws were waived.

But the impossible deadline is not the only onerous aspect of H.R. 1020: Provisions of H.R. 1020 would also require Congress—rather than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—to establish radiation protection requirements for a potential site at about 25 times higher than that allowed by current EPA disposal standards.

It would require DOE to develop—without full public participation and judicial review—a “multi-purpose cask” to be used for storage, transport, and disposal of radioactive spent fuel. It would force construction of a new railroad line from throughout the country to the Nevada Site at a cost of more than $1 billion and would eliminate existing environmental restrictions on such a railroad.

The bill would also guarantee that the fee for spent fuel generation would not be raised without an act of Congress, no matter how much the waste program would cost.

The nuclear industry insists that whatever form the final legislation takes, it must require the opening of a storage facility in Nevada by 1998; the development of a transportation system; continuing work on the Yucca Mountain repository; and protection against any large fee increases.

Not mentioned anywhere are the risks to millions of people along highways and railroads in 43 states carrying the highly radioactive spent fuel. Possibly most important, beyond the unknown financial costs of the project, fundamental principles of constitutional rights will be compromised if the rush to meet the 1998 date proceeds.

SSU Censored Researcher: Kristi Hogue

COMMENTS: Investigative author Don Hancock reported there was very little coverage of this issue, in part because it’s a seemingly never-ending story. “Also, the nuclear power industry, which is promoting a quick-fix bailout, has no interest in the mainstream media covering its plans because they would not be well-received by much of the public. The story is complicated and includes governments, corporations, as well as affected citizens.

The nuclear waste will be with us for literally thousands of generations, so there is not an apparent solution.”

Nonetheless, Hancock feels it is important for people to know about the issue since, “They would gain a better understanding of the importance of nuclear waste to present and future generations. They would gain a better understanding of the current congressional discussion about the issue and how any decisions can have a significant effect on taxpayers and the general public, not just on citizens of the currently targeted states—Nevada and New Mexico. As a result, they could become more involved in decisions, whether they live close to nuclear power plants, along transportation routes to waste sites, or in the targeted states.”

Benefiting from the lack of coverage of the issue, Hancock said, are “the nuclear industry executives and the public officials who support them, since their plans are not exposed to public scrutiny.”

Hancock added, “Citizen activists in various states have banded together in the Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition to become a more effective force in Washington, D.C. and to educate and involve citizens nationally regarding the important issues being decided, including the risks of transportation of spent fuel throughout the nation.”

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