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« How/where/when to submit comments on NRC's Supplemental EIS on proposed Yucca dump | Main | "Industry push on Yucca Mountain troubles allies" »
Thursday
Aug132015

"Another defective document has come out" promoting radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, NV

Political cartoon by Jim Day of the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2010, the year the Obama administration effectively revoked the "Screw Nevada" bill of 1987, which -- through raw politics, not science -- singled out Yucca Mountain as the only site in the country to be further studied for high-level radioactive waste disposal (be sure to count the toes!)As reported by Steve Tetrault in the Las Vegas Review Journal, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has published NUREG-2184, 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.

As reported in the article:

"Based on conservative assumptions…the NRC staff expects the estimated radiation dose would contribute only a negligible increase in the risk of cancer or severe hereditary effects in the potentially exposed population" living southwest of Yucca Mountain and into Death Valley, the report said.

The study concluded the maximum dose of potential contamination in Amargosa Valley would be 1.3 millirems, which it said was "a small fraction" of normal background radiation of 300 millirems a year, and "much less" than NRC standards.

Nevada officials, maintaining their decades-long opposition to the proposed dump, disagreed: 

"It's an exciting day. Another defective document has come out," said Robert Halstead, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. Halstead argued the study is flawed in part because it is based on information and assumptions about the site he said were outdated.

"This report is simply a waste of energy and resources," said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who will retire in Jan. 2017, has stuck by his previous diagnosis on the Yucca dump, that “It’s closed, it’s gone,” NBC News 3 Las Vegas reports.

But when Reid "once again pronounced the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project dead," in a sit down with the conservative Las Vegas Review Journal editorial board, they couldn't help but editorialize back, "(Yeah, walking dead.)" (see image, above left)

NRC plans to hold an inexplicably short public comment period on the report, to end on October 20th. After all, the Obama administration has cancelled the project, and NRC is all but out of funding to proceed with licensing, so why is the public comment period being rushed?

As reported by Environmental Protection, the public comment period begins when NRC publishes the hearing schedule in the Federal Register on Aug. 21st. EP also reports a call-in public comment opportunity will be provided in early October.

NRC -- on very short notice! -- has announced a public conference call to learn more: "We also want to remind you about our public conference call on Wed., August 26, 2015, from 2-3pm Eastern.  During that call, we will describe how to submit comments and we’ll take questions on this topic.  The number to dial for this call is (888) 790-2936 and the passcode is 9708500."

Only three public hearings for comment will be held: Thurs., Sept. 3rd from 3-5pm at NRC HQ in Rockville, MD (including an option for calling in: The number to dial for this call is again (888) 790-2936 and the passcode is 9708500  ); Tues., Sept. 15th at Embassy Suites in Las Vegas, NV from 6-9pm (6-7 open house, 7-9 formal comment meeting); and Thurs., Sept. 17th, from 6-9pm (6-7 open house, 7-9 formal comment meeting), at the Amargosa Valley Community Center in Nye County, NV. (See August 23rd update below for exact addresses and other details for the Nevada hearings.)

[And, as also reported in the Aug. 23rd update below: "On Oct. 15, the commission staff will conduct a final public meeting on a conference call from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Further information will be posted to the its meetings website, it said." (As of August 25, 2015, NRC still had not provided a Conference Call Bridge Number nor a Passcode for this call-in only meeting).]

The Associated Press has also reported on this story. 

But Nevada is not alone in its resistance to the proposed dumpsite. Over the decades, more than a thousand national, state, and local environmental groups have actively opposed the proposal (750 are documented here).

Several groups, including Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and Public Citizen, sued the U.S. EPA in 2002, and, with NRDC Senior Attorney Geoff Fettus arguing the environmental coalition's case, won the lawsuit in 2004. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the land, ordered EPA to rewrite its Yucca dump regulations to account for the period of peak radioactivity releases, rather than cut off regulations at an arbitrarily short time period post waste burial. EPA came back with revised regulations in 2008, recognizing a million years of hazard associated with high-level radioactive waste.

Unfortunately, however, EPA's final Yucca regulations have introduced yet another "double standard standard," as Dr. Arjun Makhijani of Institute for Energy and Environmental Research has coined them. A much more strict radiation dose limit for "Reasonably Maximally Exposed Individuals," or "dose receptors" (that is, people living downstream from the leaking dump), will apply for the first 10,000 years post waste burial. But from 10,000 years to one million years in the future, a much weaker standard will apply, even though leakage will grow worse over time. Countless public comments have protested this double standard, which would put future generations at unacceptable, and unjust (from an inter-generational equity perspective), risk.

Photo by Gabriela Bulisova of a Western Shoshone Indian Nation sweat lodge at Yucca Mountain, NV, which is visible in the background.In addition, the Western Shoshone Indian Nation has long resisted the proposed Yucca Mountain dump. Yucca Mountain is sacred to the Western Shoshone (see photo), and other Indian Nations, and is located on land belonging to the Western Shoshone Indian Nation, as recognized by the U.S. government in the 1863 "Peace and Friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley.

Ian Zabarte, a Board Member at the Native Community Action Council, and Foreign Minister of the Western Shoshoe Indian Nation, has long watchdogged the Yucca Mountain dump proposal. 

Yucca's groundwater, which would be massively contaminated with hazardous radioactivity if irradiated nuclear fuel is ever buried there, surfaces at springs in Death Valley, CA. The Timbisha Shoshone Indian Band lives there, and depends on such water sources for its traditional lifestyle. 

Farmers in Amargosa Valley, NV, just downstream from Yucca Mountain, also draw groundwater from wells for drinking water and irrigation water. The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge would also be put in harm's way, from radioactivity leaks from a dump at Yucca.

NRC wrote DOE about the development, and cc'd a large number of parties to the long suspended Yucca Mountain dump licensing proceeding, and other interested parties, including Beyond Nuclear.