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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
May122016

Senate Energy & Water Appropriations bill would open high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps, launch large-scale Mobile Chernobyl program

As reported by the New York Times and The Hill, the Energy & Water Appropriations bill (H.R.2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016) passed the U.S. Senate today, by a vote of 90 to 8.

As AP reported: The legislation includes a pilot program to allow storage of nuclear waste at private facilities, such as one proposed in western Texas...

The legislation would fund a pilot program to relocate radioactive waste from shuttered nuclear power plants to a storage site near Midland, Texas. The project would provide a partial solution as lawmakers try to resolve a decades-old dispute over storing nuclear waste at a repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Yucca site has never opened amid fierce opposition from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other lawmakers.

(Thus, nuclear power industry lobbyists have prevailed in getting what they want included, while emergency relief for Flint, Michigan amidst its drinking water lead poisoning catastrophe was left out. This, despite the best efforts of Michigan's U.S. Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters (both Democrats), due to a hold placed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Learn more about Flint's cautionary tale vis-a-vis radioactive waste in Beyond Nuclear's article in Counterpunch, "After Flint, Don't Let Them Nuke the Great Lakes Next!")

A blog by Marc Boom, Associate Director of Government Affairs at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned that "Senate Energy and Water Bill [is] Not as Non-Controversial as Claimed."

Boom blogged:

For example, the bill contains a provision that authorizes a new pilot program to allow the Department of Energy to store nuclear waste at private facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is an unwise approach to one of the most contentious issues of American politics—nuclear waste—without any of the comprehensive work necessary for a full reform of the nation’s nuclear waste laws. Simply, this provision removes meaningful motivation and impetus for adherence to the long standing principle that the nation’s nuclear waste must be buried in deep geologic repositories, permanently isolated from the human and natural environments. We urge the controversial provision be removed.

In fact, NRDC has led opposition to so-called "centralized" or "consolidated interim storage" un-linked to permament geologic disposal. Way back in 2012 and 2013, NRDC's senior nuclear attorney, Geoff Fettus, testified at U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee hearings on radioactive waste management, about the importance of maintaining that linkage, lest "centralized interim storage" become de facto permanent surface storage, or parking lot dumps.

The ENR Committee Chairman in 2012, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), got it. De-linking "centralized interim storage" and permanent disposal did not happen on his watch. The risks of "centralized interim storage" becoming de facto permanent parking lot dumps, for lack of a permanent repository, was too great. New Mexico being targeted for so-called "centralized interim storage" -- at Eddy-Lea Counties, in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, near the DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) -- made that risk all too real to allow to happen.

Alas, such wisdom is not prevailing in the U.S. Senate now, as pro-nuclear U.S. Senators seek to do the bidding of the nuclear power industry's lobbyists.

The Senate version of H.R.2028 is posted online.

Here is the relevant legislative language, related to "consent-based centralized interim storage," extracted from the bill (Section 306).

Also see an overview of the bill's current status.

A congressional summary, posted online, describes Section 306 thus:

(Sec. 306) Authorizes DOE to conduct a pilot program with private sector partners to license, construct, and operate one or more storage facilities to provide interim storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Permits the Nuclear Waste Fund to be used for this purpose, subject to appropriations.

That same summary describes Section 311 this way:

(Sec. 311) Permits DOD [sic, should read DOE] to: (1) enter into contracts to store spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to which DOE holds the title or has a contract to accept title, and (2) enter into new contracts or modify existing contracts to accept title for high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel.

Regarding funding for "centralized interim storage," the bill reads:

Nuclear Energy

For Department of Energy expenses including the purchase, construction, and acquisition of plant and capital equipment, and other expenses necessary for nuclear energy activities in carrying out the purposes of the Department of Energy Organization Act (42 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.), including the acquisition or condemnation of any real property or any facility or for plant or facility acquisition, construction, or expansion, and the purchase of no more than three emergency service vehicles for replacement only, $1,057,903,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That of such amount, the Secretary of Energy may obligate up to $10,000,000 under existing authorities, for contracting for the management of used nuclear fuel to which the Secretary holds the title or has a contract to accept title: Provided further, That of such amount, $80,000,000 shall be available until September 30, 2018, for program direction. (emphasis added)

DOE has "standard contracts" to "accept title" to all commercial irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S. (Incredibly, this includes for the high-level radioactive waste at proposed new reactors, such as Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and Summer 2 & 3 in SC, if their increasingly behind schedule and over budget construction projects should ever be completed, and the reactors ever actually operate. Between Election Day 2008 and Inauguration Day 2009 (early Nov. 2008 to mid-Jan. 2009), as the Obama administration was entering office, the George W. Bush DOE hastily -- even sloppily -- signed "standard contracts" with nuclear utilities to take ultimate responsibility for irradiated nuclear fuel to be generated by a large number of proposed new reactors. Most of these proposed new reactors, thankfully, have since been cancelled, so hopefully will never be built, and never generate high-level radioactive waste.)

But in U.S. Senate Energy & Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) Report accompanying H.R. 2028, different funding levels are cited:

The Committee recommends $30,000,000 for used nuclear fuel disposition to implement sections 306 and 311. Within this amount, funds are provided for financial and technical assistance associated with a consent-based siting process, including education, technical analyses, and other support to entities considering hosting an interim storage facility; and for incentive payments to entities with signed agreements with eligible jurisdictions. (emphasis added)

(See Pages 80-81 of the PDF version of the Report posted online.)

This Senate-passed version of the Energy & Water Appropriations bill now goes to a conference committee with the U.S. House, in order to try to reach a reconciled version. That final bill -- which could be different in significant ways from both the current Senate and House versions -- would then return to each House of Congress for final passage, and then would become law with President Obama's signature.

A most interesting impasse regarding radioactive waste, between the House and Senate, is the demand by U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and U.S. House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), that any radioactive waste management program include the Yucca Mountain, Nevada dump.

But Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid from Nevada, is adamantly opposed. Reid has led opposition to the Yucca dump since the 1987 "Screw Nevada" bill targeted his state in the first place. In 2010, Reid helped secure the Obama administration's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain Project. Reid has also played the lead role in slashing, or entirely zeroing out, Yucca's budget, for well over a decade, ever since attaining his position as Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate.

Upton and Shimkus have pledged not to support parking lot dumps, unless the Yucca dump is included. Reid will oppose the Yucca dump with all his might.

Whether the Yucca dump is opened, or one or more regional parking lot dumps (as at Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, Texas; Eddy-Lea Counties, near WIPP in New Mexico; other DOE sites, such as Savannah River Site, South Carolina; Native American reservations, yet to be named; or even nuclear power plants, such as Dresden in Morris, Illinois), it would launch unprecedented numbers of shipments of high-level radioactive waste onto the roads, rails, and/or waterways: Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, Dirty Bombs on Wheels.

You can learn more about high-level radioactive waste transporation risks at the following sources:

NIRS Stop Fukushima Freeways! website section;

NIRS Mobile Chernobyl website section;

State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Nuclear Waste Transportation website section;

Beyond Nuclear Radioactive Waste Transporation website section.

What You Can Do:

Please take action. Urge your U.S. Representative, and your two U.S. Senators, to block the opening of the Yucca dump, of one or more parking lot dumps, and the consequent launching of Mobile Chernobyls. (Most Members of Congress have Webforms on their Websites, where you can submit written comments. Most Member offices also provide FAX numbers. You can also write letters at the addresses providedn at those Websites, and/or call your Members of Congress, via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, at (202) 224-3121.) Also contact President Obama, and urge the same.

Thursday
May052016

Issuance of Final Supplement to the Department of Energy Environmental Impact Statements for a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada

On May 5, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sent the following to the U.S. Department of Energy:

Dear Dr. Boyle:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has issued its final “Supplement to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada,” NUREG-2184. This document is available in the NRC’s Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS) at Accession No. ML16125A032 and at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr2184/.  On May 13, 2016, the NRC will announce in the Federal Register the availability of the final document.

This supplement evaluates the potential environmental impacts on groundwater, and impacts associated with the discharge of potentially contaminated groundwater to the ground surface due to potential releases from a geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada. This supplements the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2002 “Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada” and 2008 “Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada,” in accordance with the findings and scope outlined in the NRC staff’s 2008 “Adoption Determination Report for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statements for the Proposed Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain.”

A decision on whether to authorize construction of the proposed repository can be made only after a hearing has been conducted on contested issues and the Commission has completed its review of contested and uncontested issues under 10 CFR 2.1023(c).

Sincerely,

James Rubenstone, Ph.D., Acting Director

Yucca Mountain Directorate

Office of Nuclear Material Safety
   and Safeguards

[NRC]

The actual letter was attached.

Thus the NRC completed the "doing of a useless act," in the words of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. NRC has largely to entirely expended all funding remaining in its possession related to Yucca Mountain licensing. U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and President Barack Obama, will not allow any more funding to be wasted at the "unworkable," cancelled, and long-dismantled Yucca Mountain Project.

Wednesday
Mar162016

Supreme Court Nominee, Merrick Garland, ruled Yucca dump's revival "the doing of a useless act"

Appeals court judge Merrick Garland is nominated for Supreme Court justice at the Rose Garden on Wednesday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images As reported by Nina Totenberg on National Public Radio, President Obama has nominated U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Chief Judge, Merrick Garland (photo, left), to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by the death of Antonin Scalia.

As reported by NPR, Garland has been a "persuasive voice for liberals" on environmental issues. In summer 2013, he penned a dissenting position when two Republican judges out-voted him, ordering the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revive its licensing proceeding for the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump proposal, even though there was very little remaining funding to do so. Garland called it "the doing of a useless act."

President Obama wisely cancelled the Yucca dump in 2010, citing it as "unworkable." Republicans in Congress, including U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), are still pushing hard to open the Yucca dump, over the State of Nevada's, and the Western Shoshone Indian Nation's, objections.

Despite the 2-1 D.C. Court of Appeals split decision ordering NRC to resume its Yucca licensing proceeding, the scant funding only allowed a few Safety Evaluation Reports (SERs) to be completed. One acknowledged a showstopper: the U.S. Department of Energy lacks clear title to the lands, and water rights, needed to proceed with the dump. Nevada has no inclination to grant them. The scant Yucca funding left in NRC's coffers in 2013 is now almost entirely expended, allowing no further licensing work to take place on the dismantled project.

Friday
Nov202015

State of Nevada refuses to be "screwed" by half-baked attempt to revive cancelled Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump

Native Community Action Council bumper stickerRobert J. Halstead, the Executive Director of the State of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects, serving under the Office of the Governor, Brian Sandoval, has submitted comments to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the agency's Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on Yucca Mountain. The comments comprise powerful pushback against the half-baked attempt to revive the cancelled Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump. The chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has called the entire NRC SDEIS proceeding "a useless act," a multi-million dollar waste of time, energy, and taxpayer resources, not to mention public involvement.

Thus, the State of Nevada continues its tradition of resistance to the high-level radioactive waste dump that began with the "Screw Nevada bill" of 1987, the most common name for the Amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that singled out Nevada as the only site to be further studied for high-level radioactive waste disposal, despite its scientific unsuitability, known to the U.S. Department of Energy since the early 1980s. The "Screw Nevada bill," orchestrated by more politically powerful states also targeted for the country's first repository (Texas, Washington, and many in the East and Midwest), abandoned a process of scientific integrity and regional equity (90% of the commercial irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S. is located in the eastern half of the country!), embracing raw politics instead.

As long-time, leading anti-Yucca dump advocate, Dr. Arjun Makhijani of IEER has put it, Yucca is the most unsuitable site for an irradiated nuclear fuel repository ever studied. The only way the dump project was repeatedly kept on life support for decades on end was by way of "double-standard standards," Dr. Makhijani has pointed out. That is, if Yucca could not meet the standards, they were either weakened or done away with.

Nevada's comments included appendices prepared by the Native Community Action Council, and Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, whose members live downstream of Yucca Mountain, and would drink the massive releases of hazardous radioactivity that would occur into the groundwater, if the dump is ever opened.

Friday
Nov202015

Resisting environmental racism at Yucca Mountain, Nevada

Corbin Harney (standing), Western Shoshone spiritual leader, and Raymond Yowell, then Western Shoshone Indian Nation chief, at Peace Camp, NV, Oct. 2002, leading protests against nuclear weapons testing, militarism, and radioactive waste dumping at the Nevada Test Site. Photo by Gabriela Bulisova.November 20th marked the end of a rushed, "going-through-the motions" Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a thinly veiled attempt to revive the cancelled Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump in Nevada.

NRC didn't even bother to provide advance notice to the affected Indian tribes downstream from the targeted site, let alone consult with them in a government-to-government manner, as is the agency's legal obligation. But at least NRC is consistent: it didn't provide any funding to the tribes, either, placing an extraordinary burden on the tribal nations to meet the arbitrarily-short deadline. In this regard, NRC's SDEIS public comment proceeding itself was a violation of environmental justice (EJ), not to mention the agency's biased push to bury 70,000 metric tons, or more, of high-level radioactive waste on indigenous land, guaranteed to leak into the precious, even sacred, drinking water supply.

Despite NRC's own EJ violations, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and the Native Community Action Council met the deadline, with powerful comments. They thereby continued a tradition of protecting Yucca Mountain, and its groundwater, that dates back not just years or decades, but centuries and millenia, to time immemorial. More.