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Nuclear Waste Bill Heads to House

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1996

be saying 'yes' to your own state. You're certainly saying yes to somewhere else."

Bryan called the bill the "nuclear bailout or relief act" and protested the government taking liability for the waste. He also claimed that the Appeals Court decision "changes nothing." If anything, he said, it requires an adjustment of the fees to pay for additional disposal costs.

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) argued that utilities should maintain title to nuclear waste to make sure "taxpayers don't get stuck," but his amendment was voted down 83-17.

Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), the primary Democratic sponsor of S. 1936, called the Nevadan senators' case "bankrupt," adding that it was amazing the state was opposed to having a nuclear waste site when it had been anxious, years ago, to serve as a test site for detonating nuclear weapons.

The Nevadan senators also raised the issue of the dangers of transportation, saying that the fuel, if transported in 9,200 rail shipments, could prove especially vulnerable to terrorist sabotage en route. Murkowski countered that the French had moved 30,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel without incident.

The Senate bill features other elements:

s Full Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing for interim and permanent repositories

s No construction of an interim facility until the permanent facility is found suitable, or until the President has the chance to suggest an alternative

s Protection standards for the permanent repository set by the Environmental Protection Agency

s Transportation routes selected to pass through less-populated, -environmentally sensitive areas

s Limits of 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel for phase 2 of the interim site. A series of "triggers" allow the DOE to expand the total to 60,000 metric tons.

Despite its opposition to the interim site, the Clinton Administration, in a July 15 letter from Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta to key legislators, emphasized the importance of continuing work on the permanent site:

"According to the National Academy of Sciences, there is worldwide scientific consensus that permanent geologic disposal is the best option. This is why the Administration has emphasized cutting costs and improving the management and performance of the permanent site characterization efforts underway at Yucca Mountain, NV. The [DOE] . . . is on schedule to determine the viability of the site in 1998.

"In S. 1936, the Nevada Test Site is the default site, even if it proves to be unsuitable. . . . This is bad policy." t

Joseph Schuler is associate editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY. E-mail:


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