Editorial Comment

Reno Gazette Journal
June 30, 1996
Reno Gazette Journal
July 28, 1996
Sen. Richard Bryan thinks it's politically correct to invoke "health and safety" when talking about Yucca Mountain. I can't believe he's sincere? Spent fuel and nuclear waste could affect health and safety only if Nevadans are exposed to significant radiation doses. Spent fuel is shipped in special casks designed to withstand the most severe credible accident imaginable. The maximum dose for someone living along a transport route would be about 0.009 millirem. (Our average background radiation is about 360 millirem per year.) There is no scientific evidence that radiation at these low levels has any observable health effects. An interim storage facility would use the same technology as outside dry storage, the type advocated by Bryan as safe for 100 years.

The only credible scenario would be if water erodes stored spent fuel or nuclear waste. However, disposal containers have a life of thousands of years, and there is no evidence of water intrusion at Yucca Mountain in the last several million. The rock beneath the site contains zeolites, which act like sensitive filters, removing radioactive materials and protecting ground waster.

Bryan uses "health and safety" as a politically correct catch phrase.

Hal Rogers
The Study Committee
Dayton, NV 89403

This letter addresses some factually incorrect statements in Mr. Hal Rogers' letter of June 30 in which he asserts that a Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository will be safe.
  • Mr. Rogers states that disposal containers have a life of thousands of years. In fact, no disposal containers have been designed nor built for Yucca Mountain yet, therefore the life expectancy of the container is unknown and cannot be predicted.
  • Mr. Rogers states that there is no evidence of water intrusion at Yucca Mountain in the last several million years. In fact, recent evidence from the Exploratory Studies Facility tunnel beneath Yucca Mountain indicates groundwater has intruded the repository level as recently as 20,000 years ago. Further, radioactive isotopes (Tritium, Chlorine-36, Carbon-14, Technetium) derived from atmospheric nuclear testing has been transported by water from the ground surface to below the repository level in the last 50 years. DOE's own regulations require Yucca Mountain to be disqualified if there is evidence that water movement from the surface to the water table is faster than 1,000 years.
  • Mr. Rogers states that the rock beneath the site contains zeolites which remove radioactive materials and protect groundwater. In fact, zeolites only act as a water filter at temperatures below boiling. The current DOE design for the repository would place thermally-hot waste in the repository and keep the rocks above boiling temperature for thousands of years. This is not an environment for zeolites to remove radionuclides and protect groundwater.
  • Mr. Rogers states that spent fuel is shipped in special casks designed to withstand the most severe credible accident imaginable. In fact, shipping casks are designed to withstand severe accidents, not the "most severe credible" accident. A DOE-sponsored study defined the most severe credible accident as a high-speed crash followed by a long duration fire. Such an accident could result in 40 square miles of nuclear contamination. Furthermore, the shipping containers that would transport high-level waste have not even been designed, built, or tested yet.
  • Mr. Rogers states that the maximum dose for someone living along a transportation route would be about 0.009 millirem. In fact, from a public health perspective, the average maximum dose is not the issue. The concern is a maximum credible dose to the public from a routine traffic incident along a transport route, i.e. bumper-to-bumper freeway gridlock. According to a DOE study, such incidents could result in individual doses to the public of 30-40 millirems. Mr. Rogers' attempt at confusion through semantics simply doesn't work.
  • Senator Richard Bryan is correct in his insistence that the "public health and safety" of Nevadans must be protected above all else. The Department of Energy, its predecessors, and the nuclear industry have a poor track record in protecting public health and safety.
  • A recent National Research Council report recommends that when decisions are made that involve hazards to humans such as the Yucca Mountain Project, those most affected (Nevadans) must be involved in the process and the decisions. The nuclear industry, which funds the Study Committee that Mr. Rogers co-chairs, is singularly responsible for persuading Congress to cease funding the State and affected counties involvement in the Yucca Mountain program. It is obvious Mr. Rogers only wants Nevadans to hear one set of "facts" -- those promoted by the nuclear industry.
Carl Johnson
Administrator, Technical Division
Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects
Capitol Complex
Carson City NV 89710
(702) 687-3744

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State of Nevada
Nuclear Waste Project Office
Capitol Complex
Carson City, NV 89710
(702) 687-3744