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

Volume 1 Issue 5 ~ February 11, 2003




- State Officials Criticize Proposal to "Phase-In" Yucca Mountain

- Nevada Details Yucca Case Against NRC

- Outrage of the Week


State Officials Criticize Proposal to "Phase-In" Yucca Mountain
Nevada officials are criticizing a proposal to build the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository in phases, as proposed by a leading scientific panel.


Yucca MountainThe National Research Council last week recommended in a 201-page report that an "adaptive staging" strategy would allow the Department of Energy (DOE) to incorporate the latest science in its repository designs while allowing for missteps to be reversed without causing big cost overruns or delays.

Titled "One Step At A Time," the report backs DOE proposals to build an underground repository and its above-ground components in modules while increasing emphasis on ongoing science research at the site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

However, in a published report Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said staging is a "piecemeal" course that amounts to building a repository on the fly. He said it conflicts with current license rules and environmental laws.

"If there was an expectation from the get-go that this was going to be an experimental process and you do this on an ongoing basis, that might be one thing, but that's not the way the law was written," said Loux, who had not yet seen the report as of late last week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said above-ground nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain runs counter to federal law that prohibits locating "monitored retrievable storage" at the site.

"As I understand the report, it reaffirms what we already know, which is the DOE has no idea how to handle the building of a geologic repository," Reid said.

Nevada Details Yucca Case Against NRC
Attorney General Brian Sandoval recently announced the filing of Nevada’s main brief in its case against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The 75-page brief addresses the NRC’s proposed licensing regulations for the Yucca nuclear waste repository.  Nevada was joined in the action by co-petitioners Las Vegas and Clark County.

“What our brief shows,” Sandoval said, “is that the NRC distorted principles of law to create a licensing rule for Yucca that would get the project licensed despite their failure to prove geologic containment at the site.  We then had a rule that applied only to the proposed Yucca repository, while every other such facility ever built in this country is held to higher standards.  The NRC’s licensing effort fails both science and law.”

The suit raises five major claims against NRC:
* That the NRC’s licensing rule fails to require the Department of Energy (DOE) to demonstrate that the repository’s geologic setting forms the primary barrier for isolation of wastes buried at Yucca, contrary to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act;
* That by permitting the project to be licensed only on the strength of man-made waste packages, the rule also violates the “multiple barrier” requirement of that Act, which requires man-made barriers and geologic barriers to act independently and redundantly to contain lethal wastes;
* That the rule unlawfully fails to require NRC to make a finding that the project conforms with relevant standards of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
* By deliberately ignoring the entire period during which radiation doses to humans will be at their highest and by preventing Nevada from raising such “peak dose” issues in the contested licensing hearings for Yucca, the rule violates the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act;
* The rule unlawfully requires only a watered-down “reasonable expectation of safety” standard of proof instead of the “reasonable assurance of safety” standard required by federal law and applied by the NRC to every other nuclear facility in America

“This is a highly technical challenge designed to ensure that any licensing hearing for Yucca, if it were ever actually to get that far, will be fair and require genuine safety in the construction of the repository,” Sandoval continued. 

The brief is posted on Nevada’s Yucca web site at: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/

Outrage of
the Week

Less than a week after DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Director, Margaret Chu, met with state and local government officials in Las Vegas to assuring them of increased cooperation and goodwill between DOE and the “affected units of government,” President Bush unveiled a FY 2004 federal budget that zeroes out funds for state and local government oversight of the Yucca Mountain program.

Unquestioningly, Chu knew DOE had cut the money for state and local oversight in FY 2004 when she represented to the assemblage of Nevada officials that “a new day” was dawning at DOE.  She spent much of the pitching DOE’s commitment to increased cooperation with and enhanced involvement of affected governments.  Yet, despite extensive discussion of the FY 2004 budget, she conveniently neglected to mention that her agency had already decided to eliminated all oversight funds.

Rather than having to shell out funds for independent oversight, DOE will now be free to pick and choose the entities it wishes to bestow its largesse upon, rewarding those that cooperate and punishing those that disagree or criticize.   More importantly, DOE’s action will cripple local governments’ oversight programs at the very time when DOE is poised to make critical, far reaching, and potentially devastating decisions about spent fuel and high-level waste transportation in Nevada. 

The funding decision also eliminates money for, among other things, the state of Nevada’s corrosion studies.  Those studies have dramatically revealed fatal flaws in DOE’s proposed “magic metal” waste disposal containers – canisters that must last underground for 10,000 years to compensate for Yucca Mountain’s porous geology. 

Elimination of oversight funds also affects Nevada’s activities related to intervention in any Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing proceeding, something DOE has long viewed with fear and trepidation.  The state’s scientific studies have long been a thorn in DOE’s side as it sought to cover up one fundamental defect after another at Yucca Mountain. 

DOE apparently believes that the best way to be sure hard questions never get asked is to silence the only remaining independent oversight entities.

Yet, what should one have expected from an agency that, over the past 50 years, has wreaked environmental havoc on hundreds of communities throughout the nation; intentionally released radiation on unsuspecting communities; carried out radiation experiments on unknowing citizens; repeatedly lied to congresses, presidents, and citizens about the dangers it was imposing on people and the environment; and cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars in the process?

Ms. Chu’s “new day” is, apparently, nothing more than business as usual at DOE. 

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