Yucca Mountain Update -- A Publication of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects

Volume 1 Issue 4 ~ January 27, 2003




- Sen. Reid Slashes Budget for Yucca Mountain
Nevada’s Legal Team Aims for ‘Full-Court Press’ Against Yucca Mountain

- Outrage of the Week

Sen. Reid Slashes Budget for Yucca Mountain
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has slashed the budget that would be used to commence construction of a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is again attempting to slash the budget for the Yucca Mountain project, as he has done for several years.Reid has persuaded his Senate colleagues to cut $255 million from the Bush administration's original request of $591 million earmarked for development of the nuclear waste repository 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.  Instead, the Senate is expected to take action this week on a spending bill that includes $336 million for Yucca Mountain.  Federal funding for Yucca Mountain is used to maintain the project's five-mile exploratory tunnel, ongoing scientific studies at the site, and preparing the license application which is expected to be presented to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in late 2004.

"We remain hopeful that Senator Reid's proposal will stand, and that the Senate and House will see the folly of continuing to pour taxpayer dollars into a project that is being developed despite its many shortcomings," said Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Funding for Yucca Mountain has dipped from $392 million in the fiscal year 2001 budget to $377 million last year, due primarily to Reid's steadfast opposition to the project.   While he is continuing his efforts to defeat the project, Reid, the Senate's minority whip, is nonetheless in a less-powerful position on Capitol Hill since losing his chairmanship of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for Yucca Mountain.

"All of us in Nevada, and indeed, throughout the country, are grateful to Senator Reid and his unwavering commitment to cutting the Yucca Mountain budget," Loux said.

Reid has played a leading role in slashing funding for Yucca Mountain for several years.  Each time, a Senate-House conference committee restored most or all of those dollars, but tight budget constraints this year mean that money will not be as easily replaced.

Nevada’s Legal Team Aims for ‘Full-Court Press’ Against Yucca Mountain
Continuing its battle to defeat Yucca Mountain, the legal team assembled by the State is now waging a battle on four fronts in what could be called a "full-court press" to derail the geologically and environmentally infeasible project.

Attorney Joe Egan is leading the state's legal team in the fight to defeat the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.Joe Egan (left), who is heading Nevada's legal team, said the State is attacking the merits of the safety of Yucca Mountain’s geology, the lawfulness and acceptability of its environmental impacts and health and safety rules, as well as the project's overall safety.  The state also recently filed a suit attacking the constitutionality of Yucca Mountain.  All of the suits, filed against the Department of Energy (DOE), NRC, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be heard by the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia.

An opening brief in the case against the NRC is expected to be filed Jan. 27.  The case against the EPA is in the final briefing stage and will go to oral arguments Feb. 20.


In addition, the team recently added renowned nuclear regulatory attorney Martin G. Malsch, who is “probably the most knowledgeable nuclear attorney alive,” according to Egan.

Outrage of
the Week

Margaret Chu, director of the DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, told a nuclear industry conference in Washington last week that the DOE would like unrestricted access to the $13.7 billion currently in the fund established to pay for the Yucca Mountain project.  DOE wants out from under the restrictions and oversight of the annual congressional appropriations process, ostensibly in order to accelerate development of the nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

During much of the cold war years, DOE and its predecessor agencies were permitted to operate without much in the way of congressional budget constraints and oversight, as the pressure to build and test new and better nuclear weapons kept the fiscal spigot wide open and the money flowing.  The result:  Massive environmental contamination at almost all of DOE’s weapons facilities, the intentional exposure of workers and citizens to excessive doses of radiation, and a legacy of mismanagement and environmental damage that will cost this and future generations trillions of dollars to clean up.

This is a federal agency that has never managed to operate a program or facility that did not experience massive cost overruns and pervasive mismanagement.  In report after report, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) over the years has cited DOE for fiscal and management failures at facilities throughout the country.  GAO has repeatedly singled out DOE’s high-level radioactive waste program for serious management and fiscal shortcomings.

Yet in what has to be the pinnacle of irony (or hubris), this same agency now wants Congress to turn over the keys to the vault and allow it to spend nuclear waste funds as it sees fit -- all in the name of forging blindly ahead with a project DOE admits it has yet to fully define, yet alone adequately understand.

Congress has wisely rejected past attempts by DOE to get the nuclear waste fund “off-budget.”   Anyone who thinks that, by allowing DOE to irresponsibly throw money at Yucca Mountain, they will somehow bring about a miraculous transformation of the site or of DOE’s management (or mismanagement) culture need only to recall DOE’s past, when money was no object. 

The problem with Yucca Mountain is not, and never has been, a lack of funding.  DOE has already spent (some would say wasted) over $4 billion on the project, and cost estimates for the program have mushroomed from under $20 billion to almost $60 billion or more in just five years.  Some estimates peg the cost of a repository around $100 billion.  Opening up the nuclear waste fund will only permit DOE to throw good money after bad, faster.


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