Congress needs to uphold the president's designation for a nuclear waste disposal site.
American citizens have an enormous stake in this question: Should a single state be able to over-ride national interests? The question is important because Nevada's governor indicated recently that he opposes President Bush's decision to designate that state's Yucca Mountain site as the logical national repository for spent nuclear fuel.
Very soon Congress will act on this issue as to whether the nation's high level nuclear waste should continue to be stored at 131 sites in 39 states around the country, or whether it should be permanently disposed deep underground at a single, secure, government-operated facility in a remote area of the Nevada desert. In the interest of security, economics, and common sense, it is important that Congress votes to uphold the president's scientifically based designation of Yucca Mountain as the nation's central nuclear waste disposal facility.
Since 1982, when Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the federal government has been studying what to do with the spent nuclear fuel from America's nuclear power plants and defense nuclear facilities. It is now time to move forward after 20 years and $7 billion in studies and testing. If Congress doesn't uphold the president's Yucca Mountain designation, then under the nation's nuclear waste law, we would have to start all over to find another suitable disposal site. We would also have continued nuclear waste storage indefinitely in above ground temporary storage facilities at 103 commercial nuclear plants and a number of military facilities in 39 states. The meticulous scientific study process, which supports the Yucca Mountain designation, would have been wasted and it may be a long time to solving a problem that should not be passed along to another generation.
Since 1982, Americans using nuclear-generated electricity have been paying one-tenth of one cent per kilowatt-hour into a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) fund to pay for construction and operation of a permanent, high-level nuclear waste repository. So far, the fund has collected $17 billion. The DOE has spent 20 years and $7 billion for research on the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site. Teams of scientists from the national laboratories and the U.S. Geological Survey conducted this research for the DOE. It was openly and thoroughly peer-reviewed by oversight groups such as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. The conclusion of this research is that the natural features of Yucca Mountain and engineered features of the permanent disposal facility will protect public safety and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a strict radiation standard to protect against human exposure and groundwater contamination at the disposal site. Yucca Mountain is part of a military installation on the western edge of the Nevada test site, where hundreds of nuclear weapons have been detonated. It is dry, geologically stable, in a closed groundwater basin and isolated on federally controlled land. Despite Nevada's objections, the site is eminently qualified to become the central disposal facility that this nation has needed for many years.
Early this year, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham recommended to President Bush that Yucca Mountain be designated as the nation's nuclear waste disposal site. On Feb. 15, President Bush accepted that recommendation and notified Congress of the designation of the Yucca Mountain site under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Both houses of Congress now have 90 legislative calendar days to reconfirm the Yucca Mountain designation, thus over-riding, by simple majority votes, Nevada's April 8 veto.
Transport of the nuclear waste to Nevada will be done safely, under tightly controlled federal regulations. While surface transportation around the United States of high-level nuclear waste has been going on for many years, there has never been an escape of radioactivity into the environment. This is due to the conservative design of nuclear waste shipping containers and controls on the loading and handling process. Transportation of defense-related nuclear waste has been going on for decades without incident. The U.S. nuclear industry has an unparalleled safety record. After 40 years of operation at 110 nuclear plants-there has never been a fatality, a safety record that is unequaled in any other major U.S. industry.
If Congress doesn't vote to over-ride Nevada's veto of the president's Yucca Mountain designation, then an entirely new site search and study process would begin-an unacceptable option. Let's make sure our elected representatives and senators in Congress do the right thing for the national good and uphold the president's decision to resolve the nuclear waste disposal issue once and for all.
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