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Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain, the Nevada-based, scientifically flawed and politically unjust proposed high-level radioactive waste repository has now been canceled. However, pro-nuclear forces in Congress have not abandoned Yucca and funding is still allocated to the project.

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Thursday
Oct162014

Return of the Yucca dump zombie?!

Political cartoon by Jim Day of the Las Vegas Review Journal (be sure to count the toes!)On October 16th, in the form of a 781-page Safety Evaluation Report (SER) volume entitled "Repository Safety After Permanent Closure," a publication by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) purportedly has rekindled speculation about the potential for Yucca Mountain, Nevada to become the first U.S. high-level radioactive waste dump.

But wait! Didn't the Obama administration cancel the long-proposed Yucca dump as "not a workable option"? 'Tis true. Back in 2009 to 2010, not only did the Obama administration stop requesting funding for the project, but its U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the project proponent, even went so far as to request to withdraw its license application.

However, an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) overseeing the Yucca license proceeding, comprised of three administrative law judges/hearing examiners, blocked the withdrawal of DOE's application, keeping the problem-plagued, potentially $100 billion boondoggle on life support (about $11 billion has been wasted on the Yucca dump since the 1980s -- $8 billion of ratepayer money from the Nuclear Waste Fund, and another $3 billion from U.S. taxpayers via the Departments of Defense and Energy).

Then, in 2013, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 split decision, ordered NRC to spend whatever Yucca funding remained in its coffers (a mere $11 million) on completion of the five-volume SER. The chief judge dissented, declaring the SER's publication "a useless act," and waste of money.

The SER Vol. 3's publication just now is what has caused all the sudden buzz out of the blue.

If you listened to the likes of Republican U.S. Congressmen Upton (Michigan) and Shimkus (Illinois) -- the U.S. House of Representatives committee and subcommittee chairs, respectively, with jurisdiction over nuclear matters -- you'd think NRC's new report heralded the imminent opening of the Yucca dump. They welcomed the report as a "game-changer" -- but then again, they've been calling for Yucca's opening for decades, the scientific unsuitability be damned. Upton and Shimkus are among the top recipients of nuclear power industry campaign contributions, and return the favor with gusto, without fail.

Unsurprisingly, the Nuclear Energy Institute gloated about the release of SER Vol. 3, as well. In fact, opening the Yucca dump has been a top priority for the nuclear power industry's lobbyists for decades. Blocking the dump for the past 20+ years has been a remarkable Davis versus Goliath victory for grassroots environmentalists against a filthy rich dirty energy industry.

Even the headline in the New York Time's coverage would give the impression that Yucca will be open for business any day now.

But Steve Tetrault, who has long reported on the Yucca dump saga for the Las Vegas Review Journal, gave a more nuanced perspective -- including Nevada's tireless opposition to the dump. Tetrault reported:

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from states where radioactive waste is stored at nuclear reactor sites propose new funding annually for Yucca Mountain. But [Nevada Democrat Harry] Reid, using his power as Senate majority leader, has blocked it each year.

“It is utterly useless to have wasted millions of dollars on this report,” Reid said Thursday.

Reid said taking the NRC staff conclusions at face value “is like reading one side of a lawsuit without hearing the opposing party’s evidence. The Energy Department will not pursue licensing Yucca and Nevada has persistently opposed the dump.”

(The State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Project's "What News?" website provides links to wide media reporting on this NRC Yucca SER Vol. 3 publication -- see beginning on Oct. 16th and continuing in the days thereafter.)

Reid was a rookie Senator in 1987 when targeted by the "Screw Nevada Bill," which singled out Yucca as the only site in the country to be further studied as a potential high-level radioactive waste dump. He has led successful congressional efforts ever since to block it.

Reid does not stand alone in the U.S. Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, stood strongly against the Yucca dump during the big congressional votes of 2002, and still opposes it. So too does U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who led U.S. House opposition to the Yucca dump 12 years ago while serving as a U.S. Rep.

The State of Nevada also remains firm in its position of Hell No, We Won't Glow.

Beyond Nuclear, and, oh, a thousand or so other national, regional, and local grassroots environmental groups remain committed to blocking the Yucca dump, come hell or high water!

Friday
Dec202013

Beyond Nuclear meets NRC's "Nuke Waste Con Game" DGEIS public comment deadline

Environmental coalition members from the Crabshell Alliance, Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, NIRS, PSR, NEIS, and Public Citizen "just say NO!" at the NRC HQ nuke waste con game public comment meeting on 11/14 in Rockville, MD. Photo credit David Martin and Erica Grey.(The wise cancellation by the Obama administration of the proposal to dump 63,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- and another 7,000 metric tons of DOE high-level radioactive waste -- at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, laid bare the false confidence of NRC in the eventual opening of a repository "when needed" in the U.S. This was a key factor in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that NRC must prepare an EIS under NEPA regarding the risks of generating and storing irradiated nuclear fuel. The court made explicit that NRC's "mere hope" that a repository will open eventually is not good enough, and ruled that NRC must consider the possibility that a repository will never open. In fact, military wastes have been piling up since 1942, and commercial wastes since 1957, and we still don't even know what to do with the first cupful!)

A special thank you to all those who took action, as urged in Beyond Nuclear's weekly email bulletins, and submitted comments in writing to NRC, or testified orally at public meetings. The final count is not in yet, but it's safe to say many hundreds -- if not thousands -- of high-quality comments were submitted by the Dec. 20th deadline.

In addition to its involvement in environmental coalition efforts, Beyond Nuclear also submitted its own public comments to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) re: its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) deadline on Dec. 20th. Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps, submitted comments, as well as supporting documents (Exhibits: A to E; F to I; and J to O).

Kay Drey, a Beyond Nuclear board of directors member based in St. Louis, MO, also submitted comments. Kay is also the author of the numerous pamphlets listed below, and the inspiration behind the Dec. 2-3, 2012 "Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High" conference held at the U. of Chicago mentioned below.

Paul Gunter, Director of Beyond Nuclear's Reactor Oversight Project, also submitted comments, telling the inspiring story of "at least 92 of 137 towns adopted identical language 'to oppose the burial, storage, transportation and production of high-level radioactive waste' in New Hampshire" in 1986. In a tremendous grassroots democracy victory, town warrant articles were passed across "the Granite State" -- the month before Chernobyl exploded and 25 years before Fukushima Daiichi melted down -- in opposition to the Department of Energy's proposal to destroy seven historic New Hampshire towns in order to build a national geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste beneath them.

In Nov. 2007, amidst the presidential primary campaign then raging in New Hampshire, Beyond Nuclear published a fact sheet entitled "A New Hampshire High-Level Radioactive Waste Dump?" In the section on "What's at Stake?", Beyond Nuclear reported:

"Several towns, including Hillsborough (frequently spelled Hillsboro), New Hampshire sit atop a large granite formation identified as the “Cardigan Pluton.” The rock body is part of the DOE’s Crystalline Rock Repository Project to site a second national nuclear waste repository. If selected, the populations declining a federal buyout would be subject to relocation and their property seized by eminent domain for the deep geological repository. This dubious distinction persists despite many geological and hydrological flaws in the candidate site including rock fractures, high amounts of rainfall, broad uncertainty about groundwater movement through the rock body and migration of radioactivity from nuclear waste into aquifers for drinking and agricultural irrigation supplies for large populations.  

In addition to the environmental impacts, federal confiscation would adversely impact the deep historical significance of the area: the nearby town of Washington, the first town in the U.S. to be named after our first president, just after the Revolutionary War; numerous preserved stone arch masonry bridges; the Franklin Pierce Homestead, the home of the 14th President of the United States; the founding congregation and church of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination are examples. There is also the natural beauty of the area: forested hills, scenic lakes and river-ways. Much of this, along with picturesque, historic towns and villages would cease to exist if a national high-level radioactive waste dump opened in New Hampshire."

In fact, as the Beyond Nuclear backgrounder warned, in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration in late 2008, Energy Secretary Bodman issued a Report on the Need for a Second Repository that indeed listed both New Hampshire and Maine (and most of the rest of the Lower 48) on the target list.  (The map on page 12 showed this.)                 

Re: NRC's nuke waste con game deadline, Kevin also submitted the following additional comments: regarding nuclear industry whistleblower Oscar Shirani's revelations on Holtec dry cask Quality Assurance violations, and NRC dry cask storage inspector Dr. Ross Landsman's support for Shirani; a cover letter and backgrounder on dry cask storage problems; a cover letter, and the Statement of Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors, in support of Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS), signed by hundreds of environmental groups representing all 50 states; a cover letter, and the Beyond Nuclear fact sheet "Catastrophic Risks of GE BWR Mark I High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Pools"; a cover letter, and Beyond Nuclear pamphlet "Routine Radioactive Releases from U.S. Nuclear Power Plants," as well as a chart, prepared by Russell Hoffman, showing into which particular organs specific radioactive contaminants lodge to cause harm in the human body; a cover letter, packet of materials from "A Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High" conference, and Beyond Nuclear pamphlet of the same title; a cover letter, and assorted humorous placards, prepared by NEIS for a "nuke waste con game" of "nuclear bingo" at NRC's public comment meeting in Oak Brook, IL; a cover letter, and Beyond Nuclear pamphlets "Dirty, Dangerous, and Expensive," as well as "Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing = Weapons Proliferation"; a cover letter, and sheet prepared by NEIS entitled "It All Boils Down To -- Do We Trust the NRC?".

In addition, Kevin had earlier submitted oral comments at a number of NRC public meetings:

Rockville, MD NRC HQ call-in public comment meeting, Dec. 9th (see NRC's transcript, including Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear's testimony at transcript pages 30-34, and again at transcript pages 60-62).

Perrysburg, OH NRC public comment meeting, Dec. 2nd:

Kevin made points site-specific to Great Lakes reactors, including to Palisades in MI and to Davis-Besse near Perrysburg, from minute 3:00 to 8:37 on a video recording of the public meeting, filmed by Kathy Barnes of Don't Waste MI (Part 4). (Kathy coordinates the Don't Waste MI Facebook page.)

(See the NRC transcript of the meeting, including Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear's comments from pages 41 to 45 of the transcript.)

NRC HQ (Rockville, MD) public comment meeting, Nov. 14th:

See the transcript from the meeting, including Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear's remarks from page 102-107.

Oak Brook, IL public comment meeting, Nov. 12th:

See the transcript from this public comment meeting, including Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear's remarks at transcript pages 50 to 54.

NRC HQ public comment meeting, Rockville, MD, Oct. 1, 2013:

See the transcript of the meeting, including Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear's testimony at pages 37-41 of the transcript.

Friday
Dec202013

Environmental coalition meets NRC's "Nuclear Waste Confidence" DGEIS public comment deadline

Environmental coalition attorney Diane Curran

(The wise cancellation by the Obama administration of the proposal to dump 63,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- and another 7,000 metric tons of DOE high-level radioactive waste -- at Yucca Mountain in Nevada laid bare the false confidence of NRC in the eventual opening of a repository "when needed" in the U.S. This was a key factor in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that NRC must prepare an EIS under NEPA regarding the risks of generating and storing irradiated nuclear fuel. The court made explicit that NRC's "mere hope" that a repository will open eventually is not good enough, and ruled that NRC must consider the possibility that a repository will never open. In fact, military wastes have been piling up since 1942, and commercial wastes since 1957, and we still don't even know what to do with the first cupful!)

An environmental coalition of nearly three dozen groups, including Beyond Nuclear, has submitted comments on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). The coalition is represented by a team of attorneys, including Diane Curran (photo, left) of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, and Eisenberg, LLP, Washington, D.C.; Mindy Goldstein, Director, and Jillian Kysor, Fellow, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; and Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director, and Deborah Brancato, Staff Attorney, Riverkeeper, Ossining, NY.

The coalition is also represented by a team of expert witnesses, including Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, MD; David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, Chattanooga, TN; Dr. Gordon Thompson, Executive Director, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, MA; and Dr. Mark Cooper, Senior Research Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT.

The environmental coalition's comments, as well as its expert witnesses' declarations, have been posted on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) website, as well as at the bottom of a press release featuring the work of Dr. Cooper on the economic costs of irradiated nuclear fuel management. The coalition's comment and expert witness declarations are also posted at the NIRS website.

Curran, on behalf of three environmental groups (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper, and SACE), in alliance with Natural Resource Defense Council, as well as four state attorneys general (CT, NJ, NY, and VT) won a landmark legal victory on June 8, 2012. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that NRC had to carry out an environmental impact statement on its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy and rule, including the on-site storage risks of irradiated nuclear fuel in pools and dry casks. The Dec. 20th public comment deadline on the DGEIS is a part of that court-ordered process.

Tuesday
Dec172013

Expert to NRC: Hidden costs of reactor waste storage & disposal make nuclear power less attractive than wind, solar, efficiency

Mark Cooper of Vermont Law SchoolOn Thurs., Dec. 19th at 11 AM Eastern, Diane Curran and Mark Cooper (photo, left), attorney and expert witness, respectively, representing a coalition of dozens of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, will hold a press conference entitled: EXPERT TO TELL NRC THAT HIDDEN COSTS OF REACTOR WASTE STORAGE & DISPOSAL MAKES NUCLEAR POWER LESS ATTRACTIVE THAN WIND, SOLAR, AND MORE ENERGY EFFICIENCY; Do High Costs of Nuclear Now Make Licensing and Re-Licensing Indefensible in Terms of the Economics?; Comments to NRC From Economist Mark Cooper State Federal Agency Must Consider Full Cost of Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal.  Cooper serves at the Vermont Law School. Curran serves at Harmon Curran Speilberg + Eisenberg LLP in Washington, D.C. See the Hastings Group's press advisory, with instructions on how to listen-in to the press conference, either live in real time, or to the audio recording afterwards.

Friday
Dec132013

NRC nuke waste con game: final written public comment submissions re: DGEIS due Friday, Dec. 20th!

Environmental coalition members from the Crabshell Alliance, Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, NIRS, PSR, NEIS, and Public Citizen "just say NO!" at the NRC HQ nuke waste con game public comment meeting on 11/14 in Rockville, MD. Photo credit David Martin and Erica Grey.

Thanks to all who submitted oral comments to NRC at the call-in on 12/9, the final public meeting re: NRC's bogus nuke waste con game Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS).

Please continue to submit your public comments to NRC via email, webform, fax, and/or snail mail. You can submit as many public comments as you want, between now and the final public comment deadline (Friday, Dec. 20th).

Sample comments, which you can use to help you write your own, have been provided by Beyond Nuclear and NIRS, as well as NEIS.

Additional ideas for public comments can be found in the reports back from the field hearings, at the link below. Key comments that need to be made again and again: It's time to stop making high-level radioactive waste! For that which already exists, the environmental consensus is to empty the pools into hardened on-site storage, where appropriate -- requiring a significant upgrade in dry cask storage safety, security, and environmental protection. More.