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

Volume 1 Issue 8 ~ March 26, 2003




- 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 decision.


"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.

Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.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 government sued.

DOE Fiscal Mismanagement Leads to Inflated Yucca Mountain Budget

Financial 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 Yucca Mountain
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 City.

Skull Valley is located about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.  (map: www.kued.org)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 training grounds." 

Echoing Reid's comments, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval also said the Skull Valley licensing decision will help Nevada in its fight against Yucca Mountain.

"If federal 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.

Outrage of
the Week

OCRWM 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 self-induced.


During the 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.


The WIEB 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.


DOE’s 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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