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

Volume 2 Issue 3 ~ March 12, 2004






- Senate subcommittee meeting in Las Vegas

- Yucca critic Paul Craig speaks Tuesday in Las Vegas

- Nevadans question DOE, educate members of Congress on Yucca Mountain transportation issues


Senate subcommittee meeting in Las Vegas

The U.S. Department of Energy’s apparent failure to protect Yucca Mountain workers from potentially deadly silica dust is the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing scheduled for Monday, March 15, in Las Vegas.


The hearing, which is open to the public, will be held in the Commission Chambers of the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, in downtown Las Vegas.  The hearing is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a leading opponent of the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

Yucca critic Paul Craig speaks Tuesday in Las Vegas

Paul Craig, who recently resigned from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, will speak about issues surrounding the Yucca Mountain project at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16, at the Winchester Community Center in Las Vegas, at 3130 McLeod Drive.


Craig made national news at a similar event held Feb. 18 in Reno.  The free event is sponsored by the Southern Nevada Sierra Club.  For more information, call (702) 732-7750 or e-mail tara.smith@sierraclub.org.

Nevadans question DOE, educate members of Congress on Yucca Mountain transportation issues

Members of the Railroad Subcommittee of the House of Representatives held a hearing in Las Vegas last week to learn more about the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) controversial plans to transport high-level nuclear waste to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain.


The March 5 hearing gave Nevadans a rare opportunity to address six members of Congress, including Nevada Reps. Shelley Berkley and Jon Porter, all of whom heard first-hand why Nevada has long opposed plans to build and transport waste to Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.


Several Nevadans found it fitting to be addressing the House panel that deals with railroad issues.  As Berkley said at the beginning of the hearing, state leaders feel the DOE has been trying to “railroad” Nevadans for years.


Berkley and Porter led their colleagues from other states in questioning representatives of the Surface Transportation Board and the DOE about the DOE’s oddly timed Dec. 23 announcement that it prefers to transport 77,000 metric tons of nuclear waste mostly by rail through a 319-mile corridor from Caliente, Nev. to the Yucca site.  


Gary Lanthrum, director of the Office of National Transportation for the DOE’s Office for Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said his office is pursuing two primary goals: “The first is submitting, in 2004, a high-quality license application that meets the regulatory requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  The second is development of a safe, secure and efficient transportation system.”


Lanthrum said his office “has begun to revitalize and accelerate the transportation program” to support the DOE’s goal of accepting waste at Yucca Mountain by 2010.  He told the subcommittee the government has successfully transported spent nuclear fuel and radioactive materials since the 1960s, completing about 3,000 such shipments covering more than 1.7 million miles “without any injury due to release of radioactive materials.”  France and Great Britain have had similar experience transporting such waste, he added.


By late April, Lanthrum said he anticipates the department will decide on a mode of transportation, mostly rail or mostly truck, and then select final routes.


In response to questions from Berkley and Porter, Lanthrum assured the panel that the DOE is involving Nevadans as it determines how it would transport waste to Yucca Mountain, even though the state is fighting the entire project in federal court.


“We don’t believe moving ahead is thumbing our nose at the state of Nevada,” Lanthrum said.


However, the subcommittee heard testimony to the contrary from several Nevada leaders, including former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, Las Vegas businessman Steve Cloobeck, environmentalist Jeff van Ee, state transportation consultant Robert Halstead and Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. 


Loux said DOE is “putting the caboose before the engine” by moving forward without a real transportation plan.


Berkley and Porter said they will pursue a bill suggested by Bryan to require the DOE to develop a credible, safety-based transportation plan and draft an environmental impact statement before it applies for a license to construct a repository.


Berkley and Porter also took Lanthrum and the DOE to task for not doing enough to involve and inform Nevada elected officials, community leaders, environmental groups, land owners, ranchers, miners, Native American tribes and others who expect to be negatively impacted by the transportation and storage of nuclear waste.


Porter was instrumental in organizing the hearing in Las Vegas.  He said he called subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., last Christmas Eve, as soon as he heard the DOE had announced a proposed rail route through Nevada “without the scrutiny of Congress or the people of Nevada.”  Porter also expressed concern about nuclear waste being carried on trains loaded with all sorts of other cargo.


“Under current plans, nuclear waste could be mixed with trains carrying cars, cows, or candy,” Porter said.


In highlighting Nevada’s 22-year history of trying to derail the Yucca Mountain project, Bryan countered the two most common arguments cited by supporters of the project who claim the dump is inevitable and that Nevada should somehow negotiate for “illusionary benefits” in exchange for accepting a project that no other state wants.  


“Why would anybody give us benefits if it’s inevitable?” Bryan asked.  “There are no benefits for us in Nevada, and there is no compromise.  There is no pot of gold at the end of this nuclear rainbow.”


Bryan and Loux responded to questions from subcommittee members, including Rep. Julia Carson, D-Ind., who asked about alternatives to burying the waste at Yucca Mountain.  Bryan and Loux answered that the project is not only dangerous to Nevada and other states, but it is also unnecessary.  As for alternatives, Loux explained that Yucca Mountain proponents acknowledge the waste can be stored safely at current sites around the country for more than 100 years.


Bryan concluded by urging members of Congress and others to share Nevada’s “outrage” about the government’s plans to impose such a controversial and costly project on Nevada.


Subcommittee members seemed sympathetic.


“I certainly agree with Sen. Bryan that politics, rather than science, are driving this process,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.  He added that he represents a state that does not generate nuclear power and has voted against the Yucca Mountain project in Congress.


Such support continues to encourage Berkley, who expressed optimism about Nevada’s chances of creating more allies and eventually halting the project, be it through Nevada’s pending federal court case or by other means.


“I am one of those who is confident that Yucca Mountain will never happen,” she said.


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