January 9, 1999

MN Star Tribune

Counterpoint: Waste dump could be a million-year mistake

Joan Claybrook

The Star Tribune's Dec. 27 editorial in favor of opening a publicly subsidized dump for high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev., misrepresented the position of Public Citizen, which has sought responsible disposition of this waste for more than 25 years.

Public Citizen recently joined 218 other organizations in petitioning the Department of Energy to abandon the flawed Yucca Mountain plan because it puts the health and safety of Americans at risk. The department's own data indicate Nevadans will be exposed to radiation exceeding 20 times the permissible safety standards. If this dump were to be in Minnesota, the Star Tribune would probably object, too.

Transporting high-level nuclear waste and centralizing it at Yucca Mountain will increase political pressure to make the science fit the site. With the waste transported, politicians will be reluctant to admit Yucca Mountain isn't a safe repository for waste that remains dangerous for more than a million years. Furthermore, to move the radioactive waste to Nevada over a 30-year period would require 100,000 shipments past 50 million Americans living within a half-mile of the transportation routes.

For the record, Public Citizen does not "extol the safety of on-site dry cask storage." Rather, we believe dry cask storage is the least dangerous option for temporary storage. The risk from the reactor itself far outweighs the risk of the waste remaining on-site for the next 30 years, during which time a better option could be found.

Minnesotans should ask themselves why the nuclear industry spent years telling us that nuclear power is safe but now claims the waste is not so safe after all. Public Citizen congratulates Sen. Paul Wellstone and Rep. Martin Sabo for voting against the nuclear industry's plan to carelessly dump its waste on the taxpayers while the industry profits.

Public Citizen also has never taken the position that the intractable waste problem will end the failed experiment of nuclear power; it is clear that the poor economics of nuclear power have already begun the decline of the industry.

Finally, let it be clear that the environmental community stands united in opposition to nuclear power as any part of the solution to global warming. Suggesting we can trade one major environmental problem for another is akin to taking up crack cocaine to ease the pain of quitting smoking.

-- JoanClaybrook, Washington, D.C. President, Public Citizen.