Activist to speak on Yucca Mtn. site
High-level nuke waste could pass through Denver on way to dump

By TERJE LANGELAND
Colorado Daily Staff Writer

If you're concerned about truckloads of high-level nuclear waste rolling through the Denver area, now's the time to speak up, anti-nuclear activists say.

The Department of Energy will host a public hearing Tuesday in Denver about the government's plans to send some 80,000 shipments of spent nuclear fuel from around the country to the proposed Yucca Mountain underground nuclear-waste dump in Nevada.

In connection with the hearings, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center has invited Judy Treichel, director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, to give a presentation on the CU-Boulder campus tonight.

Treichel, who will speak at 7 p.m. in Room E0046 of the Muenzinger Auditorium, said there are numerous reasons to question Yucca's draft environmental impact statement, which is the subject of Tuesday's hearing.

"I would think that people in Colorado would find it insufficient," Treichel said in an interview.

The federal government began studying Yucca Mountain, located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, in the late 1970s as a possible site for disposing of spent nuclear fuel from the nation's nuclear-power reactors. So far, government spending related to the Yucca Mountain project has totaled $6 billion.

If Yucca Mountain receives final approval, the government estimates the site could open in 2010. Before that, the project would have to clear numerous regulatory and legal hurdles, including lawsuits certain to be brought by the state of Nevada, which opposes the project.

"There's all sorts of regulations this thing would have to meet," Treichel said. "So far, Yucca Mountain hasn't been able to pass any of them."

According to Treichel, the site is unfit for several reasons. For one, groundwater that was once thought to move very slowly off the site has been found to move very rapidly, creating the risk of contaminated groundwater reaching nearby communities, she said.

Moreover, Nevada experiences a large number of earthquakes, she said. And, "if waste were being transported through southern Nevada, that would really blow away the tourist and convention industry," Treichel said.

Some of the waste, most of which would come from the eastern United States, may be shipped through Colorado on Interstate 70.

Treichel said one problem with the draft environmental impact statement is that it doesn't identify actual transportation routes, nor does it include an assessment of emergency response preparedness along such routes.

Moreover, the statement doesn't assess whether the dump is actually necessary, Treichel said.

The government says Yucca is needed to end the current practice of on-site waste storage at nuclear power plants, but Treichel said Yucca Mountain won't actually solve that problem because nuclear-power plants will continue to produce waste, which will still be stored on-site while awaiting shipment.

Meanwhile, Allen Benson, a spokesman for the Yucca Mountain Project, said it was too early to decide on transportation routes.

"Since we're so far away from shipping, it's a little premature," Benson said.

He said the draft statement does identify potential routes, and said the law will require the government to train local emergency-response crews.

At any rate, nuclear-waste shipments historically have an "enviable safety record" compared with other hazardous-waste shipments, he said.

"This stuff does not go 'boom,'" Benson said.

He also said that while Nevada is the third-most seismically active state in the country, "the immediate area of Yucca Mountain is relatively quiet."

The groundwater issue is one that the government will be studying further, he said.

"We're going to have to demonstrate that we can protect the public," Benson said.

The local hearing on the draft environmental impact statement will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at the Denver Convention Center.

Extensive information about the Yucca Mountain Project is available at www.ymp.gov and at www.state.nv.us/nucwaste.