Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Senate Hearing On Yucca Mountain Repository Licensing Process

Oct 31: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), held a hearing entitled, Examination of the Licensing Process for the Yucca Mountain Repository. The hearing included testimony from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Senator John Ensign (R-NV); Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC); the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy; the Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA; the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Attorney General for the State of Nevada; the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; and the Environmental Working Group. Senators Boxer, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and James Inhofe (R-OK) all delivered opening statements and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) submitted a letter statement to the Committee.

The Yucca Mountain project is nearing a critical stage of the process and DOE testified that it is preparing to submit a license application for Yucca Mountain to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "not later than June 30, 2008." EPA testified that its draft final rule was submitted for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review in December 2006. "We have engaged in productive discussions with other federal agencies about the important and complex issues raised by setting a standard that will protect public health and safety and the environment for up to one million years after the Yucca Mountain repository closes. We look forward to completing those discussions and our analysis of the public comments and issuing the final rule soon."

Senator Boxer said, "My serious concerns about Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository date back many years because my state of California will be severely impacted if it is built and put into operation... Billions of taxpayer dollars could be wasted on a proposal that is fatally flawed because it will put millions of people at risk. If Yucca Mountain becomes operational, radioactive waste will be transported there from across the Nation."

Senator Inhofe said, "Nuclear energy must play a growing part of our nation's energy future, both for the sake of national security and environmental progress. However, I am concerned that the resurgence of the nuclear industry may be hindered if there isn’t sufficient progress toward development of a repository for spent fuel... So far, we have spent over 25 years and $6 billion on this lengthy, thorough, bipartisan process to prepare DOE to file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking for authorization to build the repository. Yet there are those who would like to abandon Yucca Mountain and start over without the NRC ever even considering the project... To me, the toughest question is: If not Yucca Mountain, then where are we going to build a repository?... It’s time to proceed with the next step in the rigorous and thoughtful process provided in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act."

Senator Clinton said, "I want to start by stating what the available scientific evidence makes clear: Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store spent fuel from our nation’s nuclear reactors. Looking forward, scientists have predicted that an earthquake registering 6 or more on the Richter scale is likely to occur in the next 10,000 years, given that Nevada is the third-most earthquake-prone state in the country after California and Alaska. An even greater potential risk at the site is its history of volcanic activity. As an MIT geologist testified to this committee last year, and I quote: 'Though the likelihood of an explosive volcano erupting directly beneath the repository is remote, the outcome would be devastating, spewing radioactive material directly into the atmosphere...' We do need to find a long-term storage solution for our nation’s nuclear waste. But Yucca Mountain is not the answer. It’s time to step back and take a deep breath."

Indicating that the technical and legal issues could delay the repository for at least another 20 years, Senator Obama indicated in his letter that "I believe it no longer a sustainable Federal policy for Yucca Mountain to be considered a permanent repository... the time has come for the Federal government to refocus its resources on finding more viable alternatives for the storage of spent nuclear fuel... In short the selection of Yucca Mountain has failed, the time for debate on this site is over, and its time to start exploring new alternatives... "

Senator Reid testified that, "We are talking about the most dangerous substance known on the face of the earth. And instead of seriously studying whether or not the proposed site at Yucca Mountain is safe to store this waste, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are cooking up their own set of books to write a radiation standard that can be met at Yucca Mountain."

Senator Ensign testified, "I want to be clear that I am not against nuclear power. I believe that it presents this nation with a viable clean air energy alternative that can help our nation meet its growing needs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil... The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is not a responsible solution... On-site dry cask storage is a viable, safe, and secure alternative that is readily available and will allow science and industry the time to catch up... Storing the waste on-site will allow the necessary time to develop a viable reprocessing program using advanced fuel-cycle technologies."

Senator DeMint testified, "While the United States abandoned already built facilities to recycle nuclear waste, the Europeans took American technology, improved it, and have proven the ability to control the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Now, European countries are proposing even more nuclear reactors in order to meet their pollution reduction commitments under their Kyoto agreements... my state of South Carolina embraced nuclear energy, and today more than half of the energy produced in my state comes from nuclear... What I find perplexing is that people argue the environmental standards are not strict enough to justify opening Yucca. However, if Yucca cannot meet these standards, then no other location where nuclear waste currently resides can qualify either... Without Yucca, a nuclear renaissance will not occur, and without nuclear energy we will never see significant improvements to our environment. We should not set our nation back even further like the misguided policies of 30 years ago. I applaud President Bush and the administration of every President since Carter for their strong support of Yucca Mountain."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, statements, letter and a webcast (
click here). [*Haz/Nuclear]