Reno-Gazette Journal

Nuclear waste rolling across nation widely opposed

'Mobile Chernobyl': Majority of Americans voice concern through poll.

By Fredreka Schouten
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Wednesday, March 11, 1998

WASHINGTON - Two-thirds of Americans oppose transporting highly radioactive waste through 43 states to reach Nevada, a new survey shows.

The survey, part of a national study completed last year for the University of Maryland, found few Americans knew of legislation that would send much of the nation's nuclear waste to Nevada. But once they learned of the bill, more than 66 percent of respondents said they opposed the notion.

The survey was released Tuesday by nuclear-industry opponents at a press conference on what they have dubbed the "Mobile Chernobyl" bill.

"When people are told about legislation that would result in thousands of shipments of high-level nuclear waste rolling along America's rail lines and highways, they oppose the plan," said Nevada Sen.

Richard Bryan, a Democrat who has bitterly fought to keep the waste out of Nevada. "No matter what state they're from, Americans recognize this is a bad idea."

Bryan and fellow Nevada Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid, traveled to Denver last month to whip up public opposition to the plan that could have waste-laden trucks traveling through the heart of Denver on the way to the southern Nevada desert.

"It's no longer a question of not wanting it in Nevada's backyard," Reid said, "but rather not wanting it traveling across the nation's backyard."

The results are based on a 1997 telephone survey of 972 people compiled for the University of Maryland's Survey Research Center. The survey examined public opinion on a range of issues and included several questions on the nuclear-waste debate and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Among the findings: Only 35.3 percent of respondents had heard of the nuclear-waste bill. But once informed of the proposal, 66.4 percent opposed shipping nuclear waste to Nevada. Of that opposition, three-quarters said they "strongly" opposed the plan.

"The whole issue of transportation is a red herring," said Steve Kerekes, a nuclear-industry spokesman.

In the past 30 years, 3,000 shipments of nuclear waste have moved across the country without a radioactive release, Kerekes said.

"The track record of safety speaks for itself."

The nuclear-waste debate has raged in Congress for years. Some 32,000 metric tons of the deadly trash is piling up around the country. Most of it is used nuclear fuel stored at more than 100 nuclear plants.

Further complicating the debate is the government's tardiness in finding a permanent burial ground for the waste. The likely site, Nevada's Yucca Mountain, won't open before 2010, if at all.

Nuclear utilities have paid $12 billion into a federal fund to build the dump and have waged legal and legislative battles to send the waste to Nevada in five years.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate last year, has been bogged down in procedural wrangling. But supporters have recently begun a push to get the legislation to President Clinton before Congress adjourns in October.

Clinton has pledged to veto the bill, which means its supporters would need enough votes in the Senate to override a veto.

Kerekes said the nuclear-waste debate transcends this particular bill.

"Inaction isn't a solution," Kerekes said. "The White House has no response but to say it's going to ignore a major environmental challenge that this country faces. "

The bill's opponents insist the survey proves the public is on their side.

"This poll shows that the public 1s not fooled by the radioactive lobby," said Anna Aurilio, a staff scientist with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"When it comes to making decisions about some of the most dangerous stuff on Earth, Congress should protect the public health, not the industry's