Volume 1 Issue 17 ~ October 30,
Let it never be said that Energy Secretary Spenser Abraham can’t hold a thought or toe the party line. In the last week’s interview with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, Abraham dodged a question about how secure spent fuel shipments are from terrorist attacks by reverting to a standard political line that’s become a mantra around DOE for dodging questions about shipment safety. Abraham responded that it’s safer to have all of the spent fuel in one location than spread around the country at numerous nuclear power plant sites.
That’s the same line DOE and the nuclear power industry used to stampede Congress into approving Yucca Mountain last year over Nevada’s objections. And it’s just as much of a lie now as it was then.
Never mind that spent fuel storage installations at nuclear power stations are among the safest and most secure commercial facilities in the country and are being made even more secure every day.
Unquestioningly, the logic of this particular lie plays well in the sound-bite world of the media. After all, who could argue with the assertion that one isolated storage location is better than having this dangerous material spread around at approximately 100 different storage sites.
The problem is, that’s not what DOE is proposing. In reality, all of the current nuclear power plants will continue to operate for many years and will continue to produce new spent fuel at the same time that other waste is being shipped off to Yucca Mountain.
So much additional waste will be generated just by the existing inventory of plants that, by the time Yucca Mountain is filled to capacity and closed, there will still be just as much spent fuel stored at those power plants as there is today. If the industry has its way and is able to build a new generation of power plants in the next 10 or 20 years, the amount of spent fuel remaining in on-site storage will increase exponentially.
Instead of having 101 sites where spent fuel is being housed, there will be 102, with an unsuitable and potentially dangerous location at Yucca Mountain having been added to the mix. In the process, the county will have been subjected to tens of thousands of extremely hazardous shipments over a sustained period of 30 years or more.
Meanwhile, the questions Steve Kroft asked of Secretary Abraham remain purposefully unanswered. Are these shipments safe, and are they vulnerable to terrorist attacks? Could they be blown open by a demolition charge? Could they be blown open by a shoulder-fired rocket? And, parenthetically, are such shipments – and all the attendant risks – really necessary, or are we being sold a bill of goods by the federal government in an effort to relieve the commercial nuclear power industry of a responsibility that is, rightfully, the industry’s?
The only reason these questions are not being addressed is that DOE prefers to rely on slick, canned, political responses to tough questions and avoid having to come clean with the American people (and their representatives) about the necessity for and risks inherent in putting massive numbers of vulnerable spent fuel shipments on the nation’s highways and rails.
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