Yucca Mountain clears another hurdle

Published October 1, 2001

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has given a favorable safety assessment to a plan that would build a nuclear waste storage facility beneath Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. In a report issued August 21, the DOE concluded storing waste at the site would not exceed radiation limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report, entitled Yucca Mountain Preliminary Site Suitability Evaluation(http://ymp.gov/documents/psse_a/index.htm), is “the most significant milestone accomplished to date in the federal government’s effort to develop a geological disposal facility,” said Joe Colvin, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The DOE report follows closely on the heels of other recent studies indicating the proposed Yucca Mountain facility would be a safe nuclear waste storage site. A June 6 National Academy of Sciences report concluded underground storage is safe and the government should act quickly to alleviate accumulating waste in above-ground temporary storage facilities. A May 4 DOE study recommended the Yucca Mountain site and commenced a public comment period regarding the proposed facility.

Despite the mounting scientific evidence supporting the site’s safety, Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid vowed to kill the Yucca Mountain proposal. Stated Reid, the Senate Assistant Majority Leader, “The Department of Energy has long since made up its mind that it is willing to manipulate the science and cast aside any veil of objectivity in their zealous pursuit of shipping deadly radioactive waste through America’s heartland to Nevada.”

“Any decision regarding a permanent repository for this nation’s nuclear waste will be made based on sound science,” countered Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. “I am committed to making sure that we arrive at the right decision for America.”

In June, EPA announced tougher new standards regarding radiation around the proposed facility. Radiation exposure would be limited by EPA to 15 millirem per year. By comparison, naturally occurring radiation in brick houses is roughly half that level.

The DOE has concluded the proposed facility would expose citizens near Yucca Mountain to less than 1 millirem of radiation per year. With the new report finding such minimal radiation seepage, Secretary Abraham is expected to formally recommend the Yucca Mountain site to President Bush by the end of the year.

Once Abraham recommends the Yucca Mountain site, the Nevada governor and legislature would have a chance to weigh in on the issue. If Nevada officials oppose the recommendation, as expected, the issue would be decided in the U.S. Senate. A simple Senate majority would be required to affirm the proposal.

“After nearly 20 years of in-depth scientific investigation of every environmental facet of Yucca Mountain, there is no reason for further delay,” stated Colvin.