|STATE OF NEVADA
Carson City, Nevada 89710
Fax: (702) 687-4486
|December 4, 1998|
The Honorable Bill Richardson
Dear Secretary Richardson:
Early in my tenure as Governor of Nevada, I wrote to the then Secretary of Energy, Admiral James D. Watkins, regarding the unsuitability of the Yucca Mountain site for development as a high-level nuclear waste repository. In that November 14, 1989 letter, I noted three factors that the State of Nevada believed provided sufficient cause for removal of the site from further consideration. These factors were: 1) the potential for future human intrusion; 2) the potential for tectonics, including faulting and volcanism, to disrupt the site; and 3) rapid groundwater travel time from the repository to the accessible environment. I further pointed out that, notwithstanding the Department of Energy's conceptual model of groundwater flow through Yucca Mountain, the available data indicated that the site met the disqualification conditions for Postclosure Geohydrology contained in the Department's Guidelines for Site Recommendation, 10 CFR Part 960, and therefore, should be immediately disqualified. The reasoning in each of these areas was elaborated in an attachment to that letter.
I concluded my November 14, 1989 letter as follows:
"In light of your responsibilities as the federal official charged by law with implementation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and prudent administration of the ratepayer-funded Nuclear Waste Fund, I believe you are compelled now to exercise your duty under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and inform the Congress, and the Governor and Legislature of Nevada, that you have removed the Yucca Mountain site from further consideration as a high-level nuclear waste repository."
Secretary Watkins' response, in essence, was that any conclusions about the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site for development as a repository were premature, pending completion of detailed site characterization.
Now, nine years later, with site characterization data collection said to be nearly complete, I reiterate: The Yucca Mountain site is not suitable for development as a high-level nuclear waste repository. It should be immediately removed from consideration for a repository because it meets the conditions of the Department's guidelines for disqualification with respect to the rapid flow of groundwater from the proposed repository to the adjacent environment. (Rapid groundwater travel time also is noted in the most recent [November 1998] report to you and Congress from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.) According to the Department's site selection guidelines, the existence or likely existence, whenever discovered, of a disqualifying condition requires that the Secretary immediately disqualify the site.
The other factors regarding the lack of suitability of the Yucca Mountain site that I cited in my 1989 letter remain of concern, and additional analyses only serve to heighten that concern. The potential for long-term disruption of the repository system by recurring seismic activity and volcanism has been the subject of Department evaluations through the elicitation of expert opinion, based on interpretations of existing data. The probability and consequence of such disturbances remain factors of large uncertainty in predicting short and long-term repository performance, and these uncertainties are not reducible to any significant degree by further analyses.
Independent research has suggested that earth crust deformation rates in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain are greater than previously assessed. These findings could have a significant adverse effect on predictions of Yucca Mountain repository performance. Further investigation is now taking place. Also, a continuation of research on the potential for and disruptive effects of periodic hydrothermal activity associated with tectonic activity in the Yucca Mountain area is under way. Both of these factors could lead to additional findings that the site is disqualified under the Department's repository site selection guidelines.
A large range of uncertainty, most of which cannot be significantly reduced through further research and investigation, is associated with the assessment of the projected performance of a Yucca Mountain repository in isolating radionuclides from the environment. If a dose-based health and safety standard is applied, the uncertainty in projected radiation doses resulting from repository releases contaminating the local groundwater resource must be taken into consideration. In combination, the uncertainties attributed to the main factors that are said to contribute to repository performance can result in projected individual doses that are uncertain by a factor of 10,000 or more, resulting in an inability to confidently determine whether the site complies with the standard or not. This range of uncertainty should be unacceptable in any effort to determine the suitability of a site for a high-level nuclear waste repository.
Finally, findings from Department and independent evaluations reflecting serious deficiencies of the Yucca Mountain site should have resulted in the Yucca Mountain site already having been disqualified. Instead, these findings have become the incentive for changes in site safety and selection regulations. The Department has come to support a safety standard, specific to Yucca Mountain, that would permit annual doses to individuals greater than those permitted by the EPA standard that applies to the Department's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). In addition, this standard would omit the need to comply with the groundwater protection standard addition, this standard would omit the need to comply with the groundwater protection standard that applies to all underground sources of drinking water in the nation and is included in the EPA standard applicable to WIPP. The hazard posed by Yucca Mountain is at least comparable to, and likely greater than, the considerable hazard of WIPP. The Department's support of a new health and safety standard that does not offer at least equivalent protection as that applied to WIPP is an obvious indication that the site is known to be unsuitable for development as a repository under currently applicable guidelines and regulations. According to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, such knowledge requires immediate action by the Secretary, i.e., disqualification of the Yucca Mountain site.
The attachment to this letter elaborates the technical issues and concerns that are the bases for my continuing to conclude that conditions of the Yucca Mountain potential repository site are such that it is your duty, pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, to remove the site from further consideration for its development as a high-level nuclear waste repository. The attachment also includes a new analysis of the total costs of developing and operating a nuclear waste management system including a Yucca Mountain repository. This analysis indicates a shortfall of revenues to the Nuclear Waste Fund and a taxpayer burden far greater than previously contemplated to accomplish the waste management objective. This suggests that disqualification of the Yucca Mountain site is not only a matter of safety, but one of prudent decision making.
Governor-elect Kenny Guinn, who is familiar with the history of the Yucca Mountain project, agrees with my conclusion that the Yucca Mountain site is unsafe for the permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste and should be disqualified immediately according to existing law and regulations. He has chosen to inform you of his agreement by joining me in signing this letter.
We look forward to your consideration of and action on this important matter of responsible management of the nation's high-level nuclear waste.