Senator Harry Reid
Statement for Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing
Thursday, May 16, 2002

I want to thank you Chairman Bingaman and Senator Murkowski for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this hearing – and for understanding the importance of this issue to me and to my state, and really to almost every state.

The resolution this committee is considering refers to the President’s recommendation of Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the site for disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

But this limited description fails to take into account the full implications of developing a repository there (or anywhere else) – namely, that before dumping the nation’s nuclear waste on Nevada, it has to be shipped through 43 states – including the states most members of this committee represent.

So while there are many fundamental problems with the site itself and concerns about the process that led to the President’s recommendation of the site, I want to first address the dangers of transporting massive amounts of deadly nuclear waste along the nation’s major highways, railroad tracks and waterways.

Bush plan for moving 77,000 tons of deadly high-level radioactive waste requires 100,000 shipments by truck, 20,000 by train and perhaps thousands more by barge

This idea would be risky at any time, but after Septermber 11, 2001 it is just unthinkable.

The long term radiation contained in each shipment is 240 times radiation released by the Hiroshima bomb

Shipments will pass by homes, schools, parks, churches, offices

Shipments jeopardize the safety, health, environment and the lives of many people who live in cities and towns all over the country

We know there will be hundreds of accidents involving shipments of nuclear waste.

It’s not a question of if, but when and where and how severe will these accidents be. And an accident involving a container of deadly nuclear waste is no routine fender-bender. A collision or fire involving a 25-ton payload of nuclear waste could kill thousands.

Yet the Department of Energy despite knowing there will be accidents recommended this plan without developing a plan for the shipments.

In addition, DOE has failed to provide the millions of people who live near the proposed routes the information they need to understand the risk their families face.

Deadly accidents are not the only concern. Shipping nuclear waste across the country increases our vulnerability to terrorist attack, by adding hundreds of thousands of targets for terrorists to attack with a missile or to hijack or to sabotage.

So transporting deadly nuclear waste is dangerous – and it’s a risk our country shouldn’t take.

The nuclear power industry and some of its backers suggest it would be better to have nuclear waste at a single site instead of scattered around the country. But this is a false promise, because the nation’s nuclear waste will never be consolidated at a single site.

It will continue to be at every one of the operating reactor sites. Spent nuclear fuel rods are so hot and radioactive that they have to be stored at the nuclear reactor site in a cooling pond for 5 years before they can be moved. So developing Yucca Mtn would add to the number of sites with nuclear waste, not reduce it.

There are also risks about Yucca Mountain itself and hundreds of unanswered questions about whether it can be a safe storage facility.

Independent federal experts agree that the science done on Yucca Mountain is incomplete.

The General Accounting Office, a credible independent agency, chastised the Secretary of Energy for making a decision on Yucca Mountain when almost 300 important scientific tests remain incomplete.

The experts at the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, another independent agency, concluded that the technical basis for Yucca Mountain is “weak to moderate”.

The Inspector General at the Department of Energy found the that law firm they hired was working for the nuclear power industry at the same time.

There is an alternative. We can safely leave the waste on site, where it will be any way as new waste is added to the existing waste. It will be safe there while we develop the technology for reprocessing or safe disposal without shipping 100,000 nuclear dirty bombs through your states.

Again I want to thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important issue.