- Judge: Tap Allowed to Trickle at Yucca Mountain Until
Nevada's Lawsuits are Settled
DOE Fiscal Mismanagement Leads to
Inflated Yucca Mountain Budget
- Utah Storage Site
Plans Delayed, Could Create Roadblock for Yucca Mountain
- Outrage of the Week
Judge: Tap Allowed to Trickle at Yucca Mountain Until
Nevada's Lawsuits are Settled
The spigot supplying
water to Yucca Mountain will run at a slow trickle until Nevada's lawsuits
against the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository 100 miles
northwest of Las Vegas are settled.
U.S. District Judge
Roger Hunt recently ruled that he will wait until the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decides a range of issues
about the legality of the repository are settled before he rules whether
the state can shut off water for Yucca Mountain.
State of Nevada
Agency for Nuclear Projects Executive Director Bob Loux hailed Hunt's
"We are pleased with
Judge Hunt's ruling, which certainly recognizes that the D.C. Court of
Appeals will be deciding very substantive issues," Loux said. The
state's cases are expected to be heard in September.
In making his decision, Hunt issued an indefinite extension to an
agreement whereby Nevada supplies potable water to Yucca Mountain, but in
amounts sufficient to meet the needs of worker facilities and for
emergencies only. That supply is insufficient for construction and
operation of the repository.
Hunt also instructed Nevada State
Engineer Hugh Ricci to conduct a hearing, a date for which has not been
set, on the federal government's request to pump 140 million gallons of
water per year for the project.
Nevada and the federal government
have been fighting over water for Yucca Mountain for more than three
years. In February 2000, Ricci's predecessor shut the tap, and the federal
Mismanagement Leads to Inflated Yucca Mountain Budget
mismanagement within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the largest
nonmilitary contracting agency in the federal government, is leading to
ever-spiraling costs associated with the proposed yucca Mountain
high-level nuclear waste repository.
A recent report
issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that the DOE's original projected cost for Yucca Mountain -- $6.3 billion, with a
planned October 2001 date for submitting a license application to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) -- has ballooned to about $8.4
billion, with applications delayed until December 2004.
The Yucca Mountain
figures are contributing to run-away contracting costs that now total
about $18 billion of DOE's $21 billion annual appropriation. DOE
employs 16,000 people whose responsibilities are augmented by
more than 100,000 contract employees.
"It is apparent
that, like most things DOE touches, Yucca Mountain is turning not into
gold but into red ink," said Bob Loux, executive director of the State of
Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. "It does not surprise us that
the costs associated with Yucca Mountain are spiraling upward, given DOE's
penchant to over-pay civilian contractors for most of its work."
The DOE relies on private firms to maintain
nuclear weapons, clean up radioactive sites and conduct scientific
research, who in turn have billed the federal government for $18
billion. The GAO submitted its report March 20 to the House
Government Reform Committee.
Utah Storage Site Plans Delayed, Could Create Roadblock for
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), an
independent judicial arm of the NRC, recently denied a license application
submitted by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians for an interim
nuclear waste storage facility 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake
The ASLB denied the application, submitted by a group called the
Private Fuel Storage Consortium, based on potential risks to U.S. Air
Force operations near the proposed dump site. However, the decision
is not final; conditions for approval will be based on evidence that the
Air Force will reduce the number of flights by F-16 jets over Skull
Valley, or alter the pattern of the flights; and that an F-16 crash into
the Utah facility would not cause serious health and safety consequences.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Skull Valley decision could
interfere with the federal government's plans to permanently store
high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, adding that the decision sets
a basis for not licensing Yucca Mountain.
"If Utah can't be licensed, certainly Nevada can't be," Reid
said. "Yucca Mountain is right next door to Nellis Air Force Base
comments, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval also said the Skull
Valley licensing decision will help Nevada in its fight against Yucca
regulators say 'no' to Skull Valley yet continue to say 'yes' to Yucca, it
strengthens our position that Nevada is being treated differently with
regard to standards of safety and regulation," he said.
In addition to its
proximity to the Nellis Air Force Range, Yucca Mountain also is located in
an area of seismic activity and is just 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada's
most-populated urban area.
Director Margaret Chu’s admission last week before a House budget
subcommittee that DOE’s high-level radioactive waste transportation
program “has been in a coma for years” only confirmed what was obvious to
anyone even moderately familiar with the civilian nuclear waste program
over the last decade or more. What Chu didn’t say, but what is also
clearly evident, is that this is one coma that’s been
late 1980s and early 1990s, DOE engaged in an elaborate process to scope
out a transportation program for repository-related spent fuel and
high-level waste shipments. DOE even entered into cooperative
agreements with regional groups of states to assist the Department in
planning for the transportation aspects of the OCRWM program. The
most productive of those agreements was with the Western Interstate Energy
Board’s High-Level Radioactive Waste Committee, which developed a detailed
blueprint for a comprehensive transportation system.
framework, which was published as a high-level nuclear waste primer in the
early 1990s, contained in-depth guidance on matters ranging from mode and
route selection, emergency preparedness, cask testing, and a whole range
of operational issues. The primer even included a detailed
schedule indicating the order and timing of decisions and actions
required to permit states and local communities to adequately prepare for
the unprecedented nuclear waste shipping campaign that would accompany any
repository or central interim storage facility, wherever such a facility
might be located.
reaction to the exceptional work done by WIEB was to disregard the
recommendations contained in the primer and terminate the cooperative
agreement. The stated reason DOE gave for its action was budget
woes. However, the real reason was high-level concern at DOE over
raising national awareness of transportation plans, risks, and impacts at
a time when the Department was striving mightily to get Congress to pass
legislation to accelerate the Yucca Mountain program. It was
preferable to sweep the transportation issue under the rug than risk
energizing a national debate about transportation preparedness and causing
political problems for DOE’s real agenda – clearing the way for Congress
to force Yucca Mountain on Nevada.
DOE shows no
sign of coming out of its self-induced coma any time soon. There’s
still no transportation plan; no identified shipping routes; no idea about
whether waste would be shipped by rail or by truck; no provision for
preparing states and local communities along shipping route to handle
accidents and emergencies.
This state of affairs shouldn’t
be a surprise. When it comes to Yucca Mountain and things related to
it, politics and obfuscation have always taken precedent over meaningful
planning and risk communication.
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