19. Solving the Nuclear Waste Problem With Taxpayers'
Source: THE WORKBOOK Date: Fall 1995; "Where Is Nuclear Waste
Going-Or Staying?" Author: Don Hancock
SYNOPSIS: After years of effort and millions of dollars spent
on campaign contributions and highly paid lobbyists, the nuclear power
industry expects Congress to pass legislation that will free the industry
of its responsibility for storing commercial spent nuclear waste. The
proposed legislation, H.R. 1020 -- also known as the "industry
bill" -- will require that all accumulated wastes -- estimated
to be about 36,000 metric tons by the end of 1997 -- be moved to Nevada,
beginning in 1998.
The problem is that for the past three administrations, the Department
of Energy (DOE) has consistently maintained that a nuclear waste repository
cannot be opened until at least 2010. That is the projected date to
open Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the only site being investigated. In 1995,
DOE issued a formal decision that there is no legal requirement that
the federal government begin accepting spent fuel in 1998 because a
repository will not be available and because the federal government
does not currently have authority to provide an interim storage facility.
This has not deterred the nuclear power industry from pushing H.R.
1020. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would require
the federal government to open a spent fuel storage facility in Nevada
by the 1998 date. And it would impose fines and penalties for missing
that deadline. More than 15 utilities filed a lawsuit in 1994, asking
the court to require DOE to begin taking their wastes in 1998. The fines
and penalties would be a new federal government cost, never included
in any previous budget and would, in essence, be a new tax.
The utilities do not seem to be concerned that such a storage facility
could not be sited and constructed by the 1998 date if it were to meet
existing health, safety, and environmental protection laws and probably
not even if all environmental laws were waived.
But the impossible deadline is not the only onerous aspect of H.R.
1020: Provisions of H.R. 1020 would also require Congress -- rather
than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- to establish radiation
protection requirements for a potential site at about 25 times higher
than that allowed by current EPA disposal standards.
It would require DOE to develop -- without full public participation
and judicial review -- a "multi-purpose cask" to be used for
storage, transport, and disposal of radioactive spent fuel. It would
force construction of a new railroad line from throughout the country
to the Nevada Site at a cost of more than $1 billion and would eliminate
existing environmental restrictions on such a railroad.
The bill would also guarantee that the fee for spent fuel generation
would not be raised without an act of Congress, no matter how much the
waste program would cost.
The nuclear industry insists that whatever form the final legislation
takes, it must require the opening of a storage facility in Nevada by
1998; the development of a transportation system; continuing work on
the Yucca Mountain repository; and protection against any large fee
Not mentioned anywhere are the risks to millions of people along highways
and railroads in 43 states carrying the highly radioactive spent fuel.
Possibly most important, beyond the unknown financial costs of the project,
fundamental principles of constitutional rights will be compromised
if the rush to meet the 1998 date proceeds.
SSU Censored Researcher: Kristi Hogue
COMMENTS: Investigative author Don Hancock reported there was
very little coverage of this issue, in part because it's a seemingly
never-ending story. "Also, the nuclear power industry, which is
promoting a quick-fix bailout, has no interest in the mainstream media
covering its plans because they would not be well-received by much of
the public. The story is complicated and includes governments, corporations,
as well as affected citizens.
The nuclear waste will be with us for literally thousands of generations,
so there is not an apparent solution."
Nonetheless, Hancock feels it is important for people to know about
the issue since, "They would gain a better understanding of the
importance of nuclear waste to present and future generations. They
would gain a better understanding of the current congressional discussion
about the issue and how any decisions can have a significant effect
on taxpayers and the general public, not just on citizens of the currently
targeted states -- Nevada and New Mexico. As a result, they could become
more involved in decisions, whether they live close to nuclear power
plants, along transportation routes to waste sites, or in the targeted
Benefiting from the lack of coverage of the issue, Hancock said, are
"the nuclear industry executives and the public officials who support
them, since their plans are not exposed to public scrutiny."
Hancock added, "Citizen activists in various states have banded
together in the Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition to become a more effective
force in Washington, D.C. and to educate and involve citizens nationally
regarding the important issues being decided, including the risks of
transportation of spent fuel throughout the nation."