Nuclear waste politically charged

Official says states generating nuclear waste have powerful lobbies to make sure waste is shipped away

Appeal Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 1998

DAYTON - When it comes to transporting and storing high level nuclear waste in Nevada, is politics taking precedence over science?

According to Bob Loux, Executive Director of Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office, that is exactly what is happening.

During a recent presentation to the Lyon County Public Lands Planning Commission, Loux said, "We have 34 states with nuclear power plants. The nuclear energy companies that are the owners of these utilities are some of the most wealthy corporations in the country and they supply millions of dollars to their member of Congress to make sure that their waste gets removed from their state. That's what is really going on in this arena. Technology be damned. Science be damned."

He added: "We have a lot of smaller counties and states that are going to bear the brunt of what is happening. How you get politics out of this particular endeavor is the $64,000 question."

Loux was invited to inform the commission on current studies being done by the Department of Energy to determine if Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada will be a suitable site for permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste and the travel routes through Nevada being considered for the transportation of this waste.

Loux said the DOE has not found anything that would show Yucca mountain to be a bad site.

"However, they have not said it is a good site, and there is a difference here," he said.

"DOE is required by federal law to prove the site will be safe for 10,000 to 1 million years. We have come to believe they can never prove this site to be safe. They have already asked Congress that they not be required to prove it until after they have gained approval and have operated the site for 150 years.

"Powerful lobbying groups in Washington are anxious to get this facility on line. It was supposed to be ready in 1987."

With no rail access to many of the 75 to 80 nuclear plant sites in this country and no rail access to Yucca Mountain, the DOE has proposed several options for the transportation of the waste to the Nevada site, with Nevada officials believing it will go through Caliente, not through Northern Nevada.

However, according to Loux, Nevada is not the only state currently concerned with the travel routes.

"We have gone to each of the states and the Congressional districts along the proposed routes and all of a sudden the idea of shipping these high-level wastes to Nevada doesn't seem like such a good idea after they find it will be coming through their communities.

"Most nuclear power plant waste is now being stored at plant sites, and officials feel it will be safe in current containers for 100 to 150 years. We are not in a 'hurry. We should take our time and find a proper geological site. Why move it twice? We think it can be safely shipped, but are not convinced the government and private contractors are willing to make the effort. And, no one has ever dealt with the high-level waste from the large power plants to this point.

"There are geological formations in areas of southern Canada, the upper Midwest and the Northeast, but they have a large political base to back up their protests, so technically these sites have not been looked at," Loux said.

DOE has announced plans, however, to make the first five rail shipments of lower-level waste through a portion of Northern Nevada this summer.

It is proposed the 'dedicated train of four cars will travel from Concord, Calif., to the temporary storage site in Idaho Falls, Idaho, traveling through the Feather River Canyon to Gerlach, Winnemucca and north to Idaho.