Wednesday, March 27, 2002
To the Editor,
The March 26th op-ed by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's, "One Safe Site is Best," makes a desperate attempt to justify the Administration's fatally flawed plan to transport and burry 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
The whole premise of Secretary Abraham's argument is false and is being perpetuated to mislead the American public. Contrary to Secretary Abraham's assertion, opening the Yucca Mountain repository will not eliminate the waste from the 131 sites. There will always be certain amount of irradiated nuclear fuel stored on site as long as the nuclear power reactors continue to operate. Irradiated nuclear fuel rods coming out nuclear reactors are too hot and radioactive and have to be stored on site in a "cooling pool" for at least five years before they can be transported. This means, Yucca or not, every operating nuclear reactor in the country is going to have at least five year worth of irradiated fuel on site.
As for the scientific suitability of the Yucca Mountain site which the Secretary stressed so proudly, federal oversight agencies like the General Accounting Office, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, the Energy Department's Inspector General and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have produced volumes of material questioning the ability of site to safely isolate highly radioactive waste for thousands of years and have expressed "limited confidence" in Energy Department's claims. There are nearly 300 unresolved technical and scientific issues involving different aspects of the repository. Rather than addressing these issues the Administration is ready to launch a transportation project that, over three decades, would send more than 90,000 truck and rail shipments of highly radioactive nuclear waste through 44 states and within half-a-mile of fifty million Americans.
The impacts of an accident or a potential terrorist attack involving such shipments will be especially devastating given the limited training and equipment available to emergency and public health responders. It is clear that, under pressure from the nuclear industry, the Administration has decided to ignore concerns for public health and safety and is hastily moving to initiate a process that could potentially endangering millions of Americans for thousands for years and generations.
Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H