Senate Vote Does
Not Mean End to
Yucca Mountain Fight, More Congressional Action,
Legal Suits, Protests and Blockades Will Follow
by Michael Mariotte and Kevin Kamps*, July
Originally Published by the Nuclear
Information Resource Service
The outrageous 60-39 U.S. Senate vote on 9 July
to override Nevada's veto of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level
nuclear waste dump does not mean Yucca Mountain ever will open.
Instead, it simply sets the stage for years of courtroom activity,
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing proceedings, continued
Congressional action, and an increased likelihood of large protests
and blockades of highways and railways.
The Senate vote accomplished only one thing. It
proved that 60 members of the US Senate caved in to the nuclear
power industry and put those interests above the interests of
the American people. By approving this project, the Senate has
assured that this multi-billion dollar waste of taxpayer and ratepayer
money will continue for now. But that doesn't mean Yucca is a
The increased opposition to Yucca Mountain from
previous votes should be a clear warning to the NRC and future
Congresses that there is a great deal of doubt about Yucca Mountain,
and they must be prepared to stop this project at anytime.
The State of Nevada and environmental groups will
be continuing to mount lawsuits against the project, on numerous
grounds, including the failure of the project to meet the environmental
regulations established to protect the public. Instead, the Department
of Energy, NRC and Environmental Protection Agency all have weakened
public protection standards in recent years to accommodate the
ill-chosen site, rather than rejecting the site as should have
The Nuclear Resource Information Service (NIRS)
has no confidence in the NRC to conduct a fair licensing process.
The NRC may be an 'independent' agency, but it is staffed entirely
by nuclear advocates who want to see a new future for this obsolete
technology. Since its establishment in 1975, the NRC has rejected
only two license applications of the thousands it has received,
and one of those, at the Byron nuclear complex in Illinois, was
overturned on appeal. Only a 1996 decision by an Atomic Safety
Licensing Board, which rejected on environmental racism grounds
a uranium enrichment plant proposed by a company called Louisiana
Energy Services (LES), ever stood. And the NRC then took steps
to limit the public's right in such licensing hearings, to be
sure that never happens again. Indeed, LES is on the verge of
announcing a new effort to build such a plant.
Yucca Mountain does little to solve the nation's
growing radioactive waste problem. Yucca Mountain is legally limited
in how much high-level atomic waste it can accept. Even if it
opened, it would only be able to accept about half the waste expected
to be generated by the nation's nuclear reactors. The rest will
remain where it is now, on-site at every nuclear reactor in the
country, and the Energy Department will be out there looking for
another politically-weak state to dump the waste on.
Meanwhile, the DOE is encouraging the construction
of still more nuclear reactors that will have no place to store
their lethal waste. Just two weeks ago, Secretary Abraham announced
that he will give $17 million of taxpayer money to three wealthy
nuclear utilities to begin the process of licensing new reactors.
This is not only an unacceptable use of tax money, it gives the
lie to any belief that DOE even cares about the nuclear waste
problem. Where does Abraham propose this waste will go -- under
the DOE's Forrestal Building in downtown Washington, DC?
Yucca Mountain already is projected to cost some
$58 Billion, and the costs seem to rise daily. And if Abraham
and the nuclear utilities get their way, we're going to have to
start this process all over again, with a new site, and tens of
billions more dollars spent to support this unnecessary and dangerous
source of electricity. It simply boggles the mind that any public
official could propose such a plan. It is past time to aggressively
promote sustainable energy technologies-that's where we should
be spending our money, not on more nuclear power.
NIRS will now step up its preparations for large
protests and blockades of highways and railways if the transport
of high-level waste actually begins in the US. NIRS and grassroots
environmental organizations have been training people in non-violent
resistance to such shipments since 1997, and has sent activists
to Germany to learn from the massive protests there in the past
Germany has made six shipments of nuclear waste
casks since 1995. It now requires some 30,000 police and $100
million to move a cask just 250 miles, disrupts the transportation
network of much of the country, and requires a police state in
large parts of northern Germany. The US is talking about thousands
of shipments, averaging 2,000 miles. There will be thousands of
protestors along these routes.
Some members of Congress may again attempt to open
an "interim" storage site at Yucca Mountain next session,
and begin the transportation of radioactive waste as soon as possible.
While we expect Congress would reject such an attempt, we will
be ready if it does not.
For more information about the Yucca Mountain project
or NIRS, please visit http://www.nirs.org.
*Michael Mariotte is Executive Director of the Nuclear Information
Resource Service (NIRS) and Kevin Kamps is head of NIRS’
Radioactive Waste Project.