- Jaczko, aide
to Nevada Sen. Reid, named to
What’s Wrong With Putting Nuclear Waste
in Yucca Mountain? The Facts (first in a series)
- Outrage of the
to Nevada Sen. Reid, named to
opposition from the Bush administration, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
recently succeeded in having his aide, physicist Gregory Jaczko, nominated
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
In exchange for
clearing the way for a number of administration nominees to take office,
Jaczko, 32, will assume a five-year term on the NRC that likely will
likely carry through the agency's deliberations over a proposed high-level
nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las
The NRC is expected
to weigh in on a Department of Energy (DOE) application for licensure of
the proposed facility in December 2004.
will finally give Nevada a voice within the NRC," said Bob Loux, executive
director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. "Our
concerns about this misguided project will finally have a real outlet in
Nevada has filed
several lawsuits against the DOE and NRC aimed at halting the
project. It also has a Constitutional case pending against the Bush
administration and Congress. Opening arguments in these cases are
expected to go before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington,
D.C., in January 2004.
Jaczko, an Albany,
N.Y., native, is a physicist who has served as Reid's top science aide
since 2001, advising the senator on Yucca Mountain, nuclear power plant
security, and other energy- and environmentally-related issues. He
holds a bachelor's degree in physics and philosophy from Cornell
University and a doctorate in theoretical particle physics from the
University of Wisconsin.
In exchange for
Jaczko's nomination, Reid lifted holds on more than three dozen
presidential nominees for various posts around the country. He also
agreed not to block Bush's appointment of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head
the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Nuclear Energy
Institute, the industry's lobbying arm and a leading supporter of the
Yucca Mountain project, had opposed Jaczko's nomination.
What’s wrong with putting nuclear waste
in Yucca Mountain? The Facts (first in a
When Congress passed nuclear
waste laws in 1982, “geologic isolation” was required for any waste
repository, to protect future generations. An isolation time of
250,000 years was envisioned, when radioactivity would have decayed
to safe levels.
This approach had
been recommended by scientists since 1957, and was selected by Congress after a
comprehensive 1980 study by the DOE.
Detailed safety rules for
repositories were developed in the early 1980s by DOE, the EPA and
the NRC, all based on geologic isolation.
Mountain would satisfy this requirement, Congress selected it in 1987
as the only site for detailed study.
from DOE studies were startling: They showed Yucca could not
geologically isolate wastes, because water flows much faster from the
surface through the mountain to the water table than had been
was formed from volcanic ash and is the only repository under
consideration in the world that is above the water table, not below it.
o Yucca’s volcanic material is brittle and contains
innumerable fractures and voids, some resembling a Swiss-cheese
o DOE says the number of “water-conducting fractures” at
Yucca is “on the order of one billion.”
o Fast water paths through the mountain make “geologic
containment” a matter of 50 to 200 years, not the 250,000 years intended
by scientists and Congress.
o The so-called “dry” rock is over 80 percent saturated
with water, posing serious waste package corrosion
o Yucca’s rock form and chemistry are uniquely conducive
to the production of strong acids that can corrode through metal waste
o Scientists agree that the primary risk at Yucca is water
transporting radioactive wastes from corroding waste containers to the
(Editor's note: Future editions of
Yucca Mountain Update will feature more "What's wrong with Yucca
Mountain" articles covering a wide range of issues.)
It must be
open season on Nevada’s rural counties. At least that’s the
conclusion to be drawn from the latest is a series of attempts by Yucca
Mountain proponents to manipulate three rural southern Nevada counties
into supporting activities aimed at moving the stalled Yucca Mountain
the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the public relations arm of the
commercial nuclear power industry and a rabid supporter of Yucca Mountain,
hoodwinked representatives from three economically disadvantaged Nevada
Counties – Nye, Lincoln and Esmeralda – by extracting statements from
county officials visiting Washington, D.C., encouraging the State of
Nevada to abandon its legal challenges to the project and cut some
sort of deal with the federal government that would benefit their
Taking a page
from NEI’s book (and no doubt with help and encouragement from NEI
consultants who just happen to work for two of the counties), DOE’s
director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Margaret
Chu, convened a secret meeting last month with officials from Nye,
Esmeralda and Lincoln counties and the City of Caliente to press the four
jurisdictions to form an alliance to make it easier for DOE to deal with
spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste transportation issues in Nevada by
excluding the State and other affected local governments, in particular
following the Chu meeting, consultants working for Esmeralda and Lincoln
counties and the City of Caliente prepared a draft of a four-party
agreement creating a tri-county transportation authority and presented the
draft to the Nye County Commission for its approval. Nye
County has so far declined to endorse the idea.
behind all this maneuvering is a thinly disguised attempt by DOE (like
NEI) to divide and conquer. Not only is DOE attempting to get around
having to deal with the State of Nevada and Clark County, the jurisdiction
whose population would be most impacted by Yucca Mountain
transportation, but DOE is also seeking to pit the three selected Nevada
counties against the other affected local governments.
troubling, but hardly surprising, is DOE’s politicization of the Yucca
Mountain transportation decision-making process. By attempting to
forge an alliance among three counties using the ‘carrot’ of federal funds
for going along, DOE is looking to hide behind a surrogate when it comes
to making key transportation decisions, such as the location of a rail
spur to Yucca Mountain and even the selection of a shipping mode (i.e.,
rail or truck). Director Chu, for example, has openly stated that
she does not want DOE to have to make these decisions, but, instead, wants
some other entity to take the heat. Instead of approaching these
critically important decisions using supportable facts and defensible
science, DOE is reverting to form by looking for expedient political fixes
to get its way.
lay off the burden – and blame – on three small, economically troubled
Nevada counties for difficult and potentially far-reaching decisions about
rail spur locations, routes, methods of transport, and related matters by
exploiting these counties’ desperate economic circumstances might make
sense in the distorted worldview of DOE and NEI. But, from any other
perspective, such shenanigans are morally and scientifically
science has always driven DOE’s technical work in “characterizing” Yucca
Mountain, allowing DOE to twist the facts and gerrymander the science to
make a patently unsafe site appear suitable. DOE is now doing the
same thing in the transportation arena.
credit, the Nye County Commission has seen through DOE’s manipulations and
isn’t buying the scheme. Likewise, the Nevada Attorney General, who
would have to sign off on any such multi-county agreement, isn’t likely to
be fooled either.
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