|The Denver Post|
By Julia C. Martinez
Fearful that their state will become the nuclear waste dump of the 21st century, two U.S. senators from Nevada came to Denver Tuesday to rally support for a veto of federal legislation that would create a temporary storage site in their backyard.
Bills passed by both the House and Senate would establish a temporary above ground repository at the Nevada Test Site, where high-level radioactive waste from the nation's nuclear reactors would be kept until it is moved to a permanent facility.
Tons of Waste
About 70,000 tons of waste probably would be shipped through Colorado from nuclear plants in Pennsylvania, Illinois and other states in the eastern and southern United States. Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan told a forum in Denver.
President Clinton has threatened to veto the legislation. And Reid and Bryan said the Senate currently does not have enough votes to override a veto, since Republican Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and Daniel Costs of Indiana have joined Democrats in opposing the site.
But if the two republicans were to change their minds, the veto would fail, Reid and Bryan said, urging the audience to lobby their senators to support the veto.
It was an easy sell. Most of the audience were against the nuclear shipments. A majority of Denver City Council members attended the forum, held at the police administration building. Many said afterward that they agreed with the senators.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we passed another resolution," said council President Cathy Reynolds, noting that the council passed resolutions the past two years against shipping nuclear waste until a permanent storage site is found. As the legislation makes its way to the president's desk, the city council might want to underscore their position, Reynolds said.
Officials for Westminster, Aurora and other areas surrounding Denver also voiced their support for a veto.
The Nevada site is located about 2 miles from Yucca Mountain, the proposed site for permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste, which Reid and Bryan also oppose. Scientific studies are under way to determine if Yucca mountain is safe to store spent fuel rods and other highly contaminated nuclear waste in deep underground caverns for thousands of years. Reid said the area has experienced three earthquakes in recent years and is unsuitable.
The Nevada lawmakers would prefer to leave the nuclear waste where it is in cooling ponds and inside concrete blocks at the nuclear power plants where it was generated in the first place. "Why are we shipping? It's not necessary," Bryan said.
Bryan called the legislation, if passed the "largest taxpayers bailout in history." He said it would shift the burden for storing nuclear waste from utility ratepayers to taxpayers and would endanger the lives of about 50 million Americans living near the transportation routes where the waste would travel.
According to government projections, Bryan said there would be approximately 2,347 shipments along Interstate 70 and 180 along the Southern Pacific rail line through Pueblo, starting as early as 2002, if the legislation passes.
The numbers were troubling to officers from the Denver Police Department, one of whom told the audience that there were 27,000 traffic accidents in Denver last year, 25 percent on the highways. With that many accidents, he said there is a potential for an accident involving nuclear waste. "I'm not sure how to train the troops on how to deal with a spill", he said.
"The problem is nobody knows", Reid added.