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

Volume 1 Issue 17 ~ October 30, 2003






- CBS News' 60 Minutes sheds light on transportation of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain

- What’s Wrong With Putting Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain? Bending the Rules (second in a series)

- Outrage of the Week


CBS News' 60 Minutes sheds light on transportation of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain

The potential dangers of transporting the nation's high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, were presented to viewers of the CBS News show 60 Minutes Oct. 26.


'U.S.The report featured interviews with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas Sun editor Brian Greenspun, and Bob Halstead, a transportation consultant to the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, as well as footage showing rail and truck transportation routes in and around Las Vegas, including Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95.


Correspondent Steve Kroft also described Nevada's "guerrilla war" to defeat the project, and noted that "as much as 85 percent of the nuclear waste could have to come right through the (Las Vegas) metropolitan area on its way to Yucca Mountain" if the project is licensed and proceeds.


"The mood in Nevada is one of outright defiance," Kroft said.  "The state is trying to kill the project by denying water to Yucca Mountain, on the grounds that it is not in the public interest. And Las Vegas has passed a law making it illegal to haul nuclear waste through the city."


Bob Loux, executive director of the state's Agency for Nuclear Projects, described the 60 Minutes report as a balanced portrayal of the issue as faced not only by Las Vegas and Nevada, but by numerous other states and cities across the country through which nuclear waste would be shipped via truck and train.


"I think the report has created some awareness in communities across the nation where there probably was not before, particularly where it concerns the transportation routes," Loux said.


During the report, Halstead showed Kroft a map depicting possible routes for transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain from across the country, describing major metropolitan areas and cities that would be affected by the plan.

“They would heavily affect cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, in the Chicago metropolitan area, in Omaha,” Halstead told Kroft. “Coming out of the south, the heaviest impacts would be in Atlanta, in Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, moving across through Salt Lake City, through downtown Las Vegas, up to Yucca Mountain. And the same cities would be affected by rail shipments as well.”


A view inside Yucca Mountain during a broadcast of 60 Minutes on Oct. 26.  (CBS News photo)The report also discussed potential terrorist threats to the casks designed to hold the waste.  Kroft noted that 20 years of tests and studies "have demonstrated the vulnerability of the shipping casks to a variety of possible terrorist weapons, concluding they can be breached by explosive charges or anti-tank weapons."


“Every one of these trucks, every one of these trains, is a target of opportunity for a terrorist to do bad things," said Sen. Reid.  "I mean, you talk about a dirty bomb. I mean this is, this is really a filthy bomb.”

Kroft concluded the report by mentioning Nevada's five lawsuits against the federal government aimed at derailing the project, adding that "the facility must still obtain an operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a process that is expected to take three years. In the meantime, nuclear waste continues to pile up at the nation's nuclear power plants."


"One thing that was missing from the report was the lie about building Yucca Mountain to take care of all of the country's nuclear waste and remove the waste stored at power plans as terrorist targets," Loux said.  "Even with all the waste they transport to Yucca Mountain, there will still be a lot of waste being stored at reactor sites.  So in that way, you are actually increasing the number of terrorist targets by one."

For more information about the 60 Minutes report and a full transcript, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/23/60minutes/main579696.shtml.



What’s wrong with putting nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain? Bending the Rules (second in a series)

Knowing Yucca could never meet geologic isolation requirements in place since the 1980s, DOE contrived a new set of “rules” in late 2001 to enable the Secretary of Energy to declare the repository is suitable anyway.

  • DOE now aims to satisfy all NRC licensing requirements merely by building “miracle metal”  waste packages it claims will last for more than 10,000 years.

  • Instead of geologic isolation, the safety requirement now is that the mountain simply be able to “delay and dilute” contaminants released from corroding waste containers.

  • Instead of protecting all future generations, protection is now required only for the first 10,000 years.

  • DOE concedes radiation doses to humans near the site will vastly exceed safe limits after 10,000 years, when no protection is required.

  • DOE now wants Nevadans to trust its giant “computer model” of doses to the public from the Yucca septic field.


To help DOE license the inferior site, EPA radically re-drew the site boundary, so that releases would be measured where they can be diluted in local drinking water to meet radiation dose limits.


NRC likewise removed its requirement for geologic isolation when it adopted a new licensing rule for Yucca Mountain in 2001.


While bending the rules for Yucca, DOE, EPA and the NRC kept the stricter rules in place for any other repository ever to be built in America. 

  • At the operating “WIPP” repository in New Mexico, by comparison, geologic isolation was so overwhelmingly demonstrated that waste packages were unimportant to the project’s safety analysis.  

(Editor's note: Future editions of Yucca Mountain Update will feature more "What's wrong with Yucca Mountain" articles covering a wide range of issues.)

Outrage of
the Week

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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Brown & Partners,
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