State Patrol officer rips nuke transit planning

Supporters, opponents sound off on Yucca Mountain

By TERJE LANGELAND

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

DENVER -- Western states have serious concerns about the federal government's plans for shipping some 79,000 truckloads of high-level nuclear waste -- 35,000 of which could come through Denver -- to the Yucca Mountain underground dump in Nevada, a Colorado State Patrol officer said Tuesday.

Capt. Allan Turner, co-chairman of the nuclear-waste transportation committee for the Western Interstate Energy Board, said the U.S Department of Energy has failed to properly analyze potential impacts of waste shipments.

"Western states are gravely concerned that the current draft Yucca Mountain environmental impact statement does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in assessing the transportation impacts involved with shipping radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain," Turner said.

Turner spoke during a public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for Yucca Mountain at the Colorado Convention Center. The hearing was conducted to collect public input as the government considers building a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, northwest of Las Vegas.

If the project is approved, Yucca Mountain could start receiving spent nuclear fuel from federal and commercial nuclear power reactors throughout the country in 2010.

While it is widely expected that a large number of shipments would come through Colorado on Interstate 70, the impact statement only identifies "potential" transportation routes.

"Forcing states and tribes to prepare for nuclear waste shipments along multiple routes would be extremely costly and could hinder the effectiveness of emergency response in the event of a transportation accident," Turner complained.

Turner's concerns were echoed by Amy Hadden Marsh, a Glenwood Springs resident.

"I may just be dumb," Marsh said. "But I'm wondering, how can an analysis be accurate if you're not picking the roads that are actually going to be used?"

Ken Skipper, a DOE official, said routes were not yet specified because shipments would start in 2010 at the earliest. New roads may have been built by then, he said.

"A number of things could change," Skipper said.

Moreover, Skipper said, states have the authority to designate "alternate" transportation routes themselves.

Robert Halstead, a consultant for the state of Nevada -- which opposes the Yucca Mountain project -- also attacked the transportation analysis by saying its accident scenarios downplayed radiation hazards.

"The DOE just doesn't want to address how deadly spent nuclear fuel is," Halstead said.

Supporters of Yucca Mountain also spoke at the hearing. Many were representatives of the nuclear industry who attacked opponents as "irrational" and "emotional."

"We have allowed ourselves to be held hostage by the narrowest of special interests," said Fletcher Newton, who heads a uranium mining company.

Wallace Mays, an engineer specializing in uranium mining, said that without Yucca Mountain, the future of nuclear power may be in danger. And without nuclear power, the United States may fall short of its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

"Nuclear power is still the cheapest and cleanest source of power next to hydroelectric," Mays said.

Byron White, a Dakota Indian from Prairie Island, Minn., said the government promised long ago to remove waste from a nuclear power plant just 600 yards from his community.

If the government doesn't keep its word, "you will be repeating a pattern of broken promises that our people are all too familiar with," White said.

On the other hand, the government should also be sensitive to the concerns of Indians living near Yucca Mountain, White said.

"No one wants this in their back yard," White acknowledged. "Ultimately, we must think hard about our continued reliance on this type of power."