News From
Richard Bryan
U.S. Senator  •  Nevada


CONTACT: Dave Lemmon

DATE: September 28, 1999

Tom Foulkes


(202) 224-6244

Bryan Delivers Major Nuclear Waste Policy Speech Begins Full Scale Assault on Nuclear Waste Legislation
Bryan warns Senators about efforts to weaken health & safety standards

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) delivered a major nuclear waste policy speech earlier today from the floor of the United States Senate outlining his unwavering opposition to Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage facility for high level nuclear waste. The major purpose of Senator Bryan's address was to educate other Members of Congress about the potentially devastating risk to the public's health and safety if the current nuclear waste bill being considered by the Senate, S. 1287, was approved. After Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) signaled earlier this week that nuclear waste legislation may be voted on as early as next week, Senator Bryan renewed his full scale attack on this misguided legislation as a warning that the Senate faces the same fight as in previous years.

"Today, I took the opportunity to once again warn my colleagues about one of the most threatening and dangerous provisions of the nuclear waste bill that may soon be debated in the U.S. Senate. Unbelievably, the nuclear power industry has been able to convince some of its friends in the Senate to accept a much lower public health and safety standard than is now permitted by law," Senator Bryan stated. "Of course, those in Congress and the nuclear power industry, who are hell-bent to move high level nuclear waste to Nevada, are not concerned with the potentially devastating impact a lower standard could have on the health and safety of Nevadans."

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifically charges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with setting the permissible radiation standard and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is charged with implementing the EPA standard, and finally the Department of Energy (DOE) is charged with characterizing and building a repository. When the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was amended in 1987, numerous changes were made, but the EPA's role as the agency charged with setting the health and safety standards remained unchanged. In 1992, however, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was amended again, over Senator Bryan's objections, allowing the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to oversee the EPA's efforts to set a safe and fair standard. This change in the law was made at the insistence of the nuclear power industry so that the NAS would be required to make formal recommendations to the EPA regarding the standard, and the EPA standard was required to be consistent with the NAS recommendation.

To the disappointment and surprise of the nuclear power industry and its supporters, this effort to unfairly influence the and prejudice the EPA's work backfired. Since the nuclear power industry was also unhappy with the recommendations of their self-appointed team of experts, they renewed their efforts to find other ways to lower the health and safety standard for a nuclear waste repository in the State of Nevada. Recently, however, after years of work and study, the EPA finally issued its recommended health and safety standard that is more than twice as safe as the proposed NRC standard that is also included in Senator Murkowski's nuclear waste legislation, S. 1287. The nuclear power industry is now championing the much less rigorous NRC standards that could threaten the health and safety of tens of thousands of Nevadans.

"Proponents of gutting the radiation release standard, and of taking the EPA out of the process, show nothing but a blatant disregard for the health and safety of the people of Nevada," Senator Bryan stated.

Just recently, the EPA established final standards for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico. Like the proposed Yucca Mountain standard, the EPA's WIPP standard provides a maximum exposure of 15 mrems\year, and includes a separate 4mrem groundwater standard.

"It is not unreasonable for Nevadans to expect the same kind of protection that residents of New Mexico just received. Unfortunately, for Nevadans, the nuclear power industry does not care a great deal about the justification behind the EPA proposed standard. For the industry and its supporters, the EPA is nothing more than an impediment to their ultimate plan to ship huge quantities of high level nuclear waste to Nevada no matter what the cost is to the public's health," Senator Bryan continued.

"In the end, I believe the efforts of the nuclear power industry and its allies in Congress will prove futile. The nuclear power industry better realize that Nevada's Senators and the Clinton Administration will never yield to their outrageous and dangerous demands. The Senate's current nuclear waste bill is an environmental travesty which stands no chance of being enacted, and it is my hope that the Senate Majority leader realizes this and that we should no longer waste the Senate's time on this irresponsible and special interest legislation," Senator Bryan concluded.