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Nuclear establishment's backlash begins against recent radioactive waste victories

The tragic, fatal coal train derailment in Ellicott City, MD has raised the specter of severe accidents involving rushed high-level radioactive waste shipments.The anti-nuclear and environmental movement have won some recent victories against the nuclear power industry's carte blanche permit to make as much forever deadly high-level radioactive waste as it wishes. In June, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Con Game" was null and void, preventing finalization of any new reactor construction and operation license or any old reactor license extension, until NRC fulfills its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) duty to carry out an environmental assessment of the impacts of long-term or even permanent on-site storage in pools and dry casks.

And of course, the Obama administration, as well as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), have remained determined to end the proposed Yucca Mountain Project, targeting Western Shosone Indian land in Nevada with the nation's high-level radioactive waste dump, by zeroing out its funding.

However, the expected backlash has begun. This month, another three judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, breathing new life into the Yucca dump zombie that will not die, ruled that a panel of three administrative law judges at NRC (the Atomic Safety and Licening Board panel running the Yucca dump licensing proceeding) can tell the President of the United States what to do -- not the other way around. The appeals court ordered the Obama administration and NRC to resume the Yucca Mountain dump licensing proceeding, even if there is no funding to do so. The court's ruling effectively holds that the States of Washington and South Carolina's desire to be rid of high-level radioactive wastes from the Hanford and Savannah River Site (SRS) nuclear weapons complexes, trumps the State of Nevada's right to decline to become the nation's radioactive waste dump. The results of the presidential and U.S. Senate elections on November 6th will make a big difference on the Yucca dump issue, of course, as on so many others.

Meanwhile, this month, retiring U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation (S. 3469, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012) to enact the recommendations of President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC), which released its final report last January. Bingaman's bill, which even its author acknowledges will not become law this year, would nonetheless law the groundwork for quick action in 2013. It would expedite "centralized" or "consolidated interim storage," parking lot dumps for high-level radioactive waste that could easily become de facto permanent. Ironically, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, NM is at the top of the target list for a parking lot dump, after retired U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), appointed by Chu to the BRC, volunteered the site countless times for not only "consolidated interim storage," but even permanent burial of high-level radioactive waste at a facility that is currently legally limited to plutonium-contaminated military wastes.

Of course, parking lot dumps -- whether targeted at WIPP, NM; SRS, SC; the Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation, UT; Dresden nuclear power plant, IL; and/or somewhere else -- would launch unprecedented numbers of "Mobile Chernobyls," "dirty bombs on wheels," and "Floating Fukushimas" onto our country's roads, rails, and waterways. They would be at risk of severe accidents, such as high speed collisions, high-temperature long-duration fires, and underwater submersions, a specter revived by a tragic, fatal train derailment in Ellicott City, Maryland in recent days (see photo, above left). Such risks extend to intentional attacks, as by anti-tank missile, as high-level radioactive waste trucks and trains roll through major metro centers, or barges enter major ports.

Bingaman's bill would also create a new, single-purpose agency, to take radioactive waste management out of the U.S. Department of Energy's discredited hands. It also prioritizes finding "consenting" communities which are "willing" to "host" "temporary" or even permanent radioactive waste dumps. But "consent" is ill-defined, and the illogic -- and danger -- of supposedly "consenting" communities at scientifically unsuitable sites is being ignored, despite the peril.

Bingaman has scheduled a full committee hearing on his radioactive waste bill for September 12th.

Please take action. Contact the White House and urge President Obama to stand strong in his opposition to the Yuccca Mountain dump, but also not to rush the transport risks that would accompany parking lot dumps. Also contact your two U.S. Senators (as by calling them via the U.S. Congressional Switchboard, at 202-224-3121), urging them to oppose restored funding for the Yucca proposal, as well as to oppose Bingaman's bill. Offer Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) as a better alternative for wastes that already exist. A first step for HOSS would be removal of high-level radioactive waste from vulnerable pools, where it is at risk of catching fire and unleashing catastrophic amounts of deadly radioactivity into the environment. Urge a nuclear power phase out as the only real solution to this problem: stop the generation of any more high-level radioactive waste!