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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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Wednesday
Jan032018

Early 2018 House Vote Expected on Yucca Mountain Bill 

As reported by Chris Schneidmiller at ExchangeMonitor.

(See what you can do to urge your U.S. Representative to oppose this, at the bottom of this post.)

The article reports that the bill, H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, could reach the U.S. House floor for a vote as early as this month, or next.

The article's main point is accurate -- the bill is mostly about accelerating the opening of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada burial dump, by significantly cutting short consideration by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the State of Nevada's 200+ technical contentions in opposition to the highly controversial dump.

The bill's sponsor, Republican John Shimkus of Illinois, backed off -- for the time being -- from trying to wrest water rights from the State of Nevada, after he met with strong opposition from a number of western state U.S. Reps. Water is precious in the region, so state water rights are fiercely defended. However, he indicated that when the time is right, he would pursue that water grab again in the future.

Yucca Mountain is on Western Shoshone Indian land, under the terms of the 1863 "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley. Thus, H.R. 3053's attempt to transfer lands to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) -- as well as those attempts that would someday be pursued to wrest water rights -- fly in the face of Western Shoshone treaty rights. Such treaties are the highest law of the land, equal in stature to the U.S. Constitution itself.

H.R. 3053 would also significantly increase the amount of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to be buried at the scientifically unsuitable, environmentally racist, non-consent-based, and illegal site. Current law limits the Yucca dump to 70,000 Metric Tons of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Shimkus would increase this limit to 110,000 Metric Tons. The increase would accelerate the massive release of hazardous radioactive contamination release into groundwater (as well as air), due to the waste's thermal heat, underground water saturation, and rock chemistry, synergistically combining to form a perfect storm of corrosion.

But the article's claim, that "The legislation would allow for construction – but not operation — of one interim waste storage site before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completes its adjudication of DOE’s long-dormant license application for Yucca Mountain," needs correction. H.R. 3053 would actually allow for the opening of an unlimited number of centralized interim storage sites, although each side would be limited to 10,000 Metric Tons of irradiated nuclear fuel. (While the bill would authorize such centralized interim storage -- currently illegal -- the NRC, again, would the agency in charge of the licensing proceeding for construction and operation.)

The top two targets for centralized interim storage are Holtec/Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance (ELEA) in southeast New Mexico, near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) in Andrews County, Texas, directly on the New Mexico state line, less than five miles from Eunice, New Mexico. The two targeted sites are less than 40 miles apart. Thus, this effort is an attempt to turn the New Mexico/Texas borderlands into a nuclear sacrifice zone. This is an environmental justice violation, given the region's large Hispanic population, as well as its pollution from past and current fossil fuel and nuclear industries (in addition to WIPP, WCS is also a national "low-level" radioactive waste dump, and a major uranium enrichment facility also operates in Eunice).

Holtec/ELEA has applied for a permit from NRC to "temporarily store" up to 120,000 Metric Tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel, 40,000 Metric Tons more than currently exists in the United States.

WCS, for its part, has applied for a permit to "consolidate" storage on an "interim" basis for 40,000 Metric Tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel.

The grand total for the two centralized interim storage facilities, or monitored retrievable storage sites, is 160,000 Metric Tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel, twice what exists in the U.S. presently.

Whether bound for the Yucca burial dump in NV, or the "parking lot" surface storage dumps on the TX/NM borderlands -- at risk of becoming de facto permanent -- highly radioactive, high-hazard, high-risk irradiated nuclear fuel shipments by truck, train, and/or barge, on the roads, rails, and/or waterways, in unprecedented numbers, would begin, and continue for years and decades. These shipments would pass through most states in the Lower 48, including 100+ major cities, through the vast majority of U.S. congressional districts. (See the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Project's analyses of shipment routes, and numbers of shipments, bound for the Yucca dump; and see Beyond Nuclear's Waste Transportation website section for more info., including potential barge shipment routes.)

WHAT YOU CAN DO!

Please contact your U.S. Representative, and urge opposition to H.R. 3053! You can call your U.S. Rep. via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121, by following the instructions given over the phone.

You can also look up your U.S. Rep.'s direct phone numbers, fax numbers, web forms, and snail mail addresses, at this website: see the upper right, FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE; enter your zip code; and click LOOK UP.

Please spread the word! Urge everyone you know to take action!

WHAT MORE YOU CAN DO!

A letter signed by Beyond Nuclear, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and 117+ additional organizations from across the country, has been delivered to U.S. House of Representatives' offices, urging opposition to H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

There is still time to sign your group onto this letter -- another update will be delivered to U.S. House offices before the bill goes to the floor for a vote.

To sign on, there’s a google form here (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSflR0_uHQfQ9Ds4JRklF1VmtdbtxRVcDJzLIoOcn5633Vk2mA/viewform?usp=sf_link) that NRDC would prefer folks use, or else email Sean Alcorn at NRDC <salcorn@nrdc.org> your name, title, organization name, city and state.

Individuals can also take action:

Sierra Club has a webform you can fill out and email to your U.S. Rep.

SEED Coalition of Texas has launched a CREDO petition you can sign.

Wednesday
Jan032018

NIMBY Democrats must be urged to change their position on Yucca dump!

In a question and answer session with KPBS reporters Brooke Ruth and Maureen Cavanaugh, U.S. Representative Scott Peters (Democrat-San Diego) said the following:

Q: The issue of nuclear waste being stored at San Onofre has actually brought local Democrats and Republicans together to support opening a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That is in the process of moving through Congress. Do you expect that bill to make it to the president's desk in 2018?

A: I hope so. I should just say that it’s common for the five of us in our delegation to work together. We really do get along and we often endorse against each other in our elections. Darrell Issa has always endorsed another candidate against me but if the voters send us back we will work together on something like H-1B visas or the border or on this particular issue. This was Mr. Issa’s bill, I supported it and I think it makes a lot of sense to move spent nuclear waste away from the ocean. It seems like it’s got pretty good support except in Nevada and I think that we’ll see but I think that it’s got bipartisan support and there’s a good shot we should be able to get it past, at least in the House and we hope in the Senate and then onto the president.

U.S. Rep. Peters is voicing a Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) position that is unacceptable. Yucca Mountain, Nevada is, after all, environmentally unjust, scientifically unsuitable, not consent-based, and against the supreme law of the land.

The proposed Yucca dump is a violation of environmental justice (EJ) because low income and people of color communities (such as the Western Shoshone Indian Nation) have already suffered badly from nuclear weapons testing in Nevada.

The proposed Yucca dump is scientifically unsuitable, because it is an active earthquake and volcanic zone. Also, the perfect storm of underground water saturation, rock chemistry, and the thermal heat of the buried waste would guarantee waste burial corrosion and breach over time, resulting in massive releases of radioactivity to groundwater. Downstream are the agricultural community of Amargosa Valley, Nevada, which draws its drinking water and irrigation water from Yucca's groundwater. Also downstream is the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refugre. Also downstream is the Timbisha Shoshone Indian Band, which draws its water from springs where Yucca's groundwater ultimately surfaces.

The proposed Yucca dump is not consent-based. Both the State of Nevada, and the Western Shoshone Indian Nation, have opposed the dump from the start, decades back, since it was first proposed, and shoved down their throat, against their will, through such acts as the "Screw Nevada bill" of 1987.

The proposed Yucca dump violates the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. Such treaties are the supreme law of the land, equal in stature to the U.S. Constitution itself.

Beyond Nuclear advocates for Hardened On-Site Storage, as close to the point of generation as possible. In the case of the permanently closed San Onofre nuclear power plant in s. CA, Beyond Nuclear has advocated -- as in a letter to the editor of the L.A. Times -- for the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, immediately adjacent to the atomic reactors, to be considered as an interim, safer alternative for irradiated nuclear fuel storage, instead of the Pacific Ocean beach.

Monday
Dec182017

Yucca dump threatens fragile ecosystems, endangered species, and the Timbisha Band of Western Shoshone Indians

In an article in the New York Times by Jim Robbins entitled "The Amargosa River Defies the Desert: The Slender Delicate Stream Flows Through the Mojave, Giving Life to Plants and Animals Found Nowhere Else in the World," the precarious hold on survival by the Devil's Hole Pupfish, and other threatened and endangered animals and plants in the greater Death Valley, California region is made clear.

While the most acute risk is to the aquifers and creeks that feed the Amargosa, from groundwater pumping in nearby farms, ranches, and towns (an immediate impact that would be exacerbated very significantly by Yucca Mountain dumpsite construction and operational activities, as mentioned just below), a chronic risk would be massive, hazardous radioactive contamination, if the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste dump is ever constructed and operated upstream.

As the article reports:

Much of the regional groundwater system that feeds these protected features comes from the flanks of Yucca Mountain, some 70 miles or so to the north. The Trump administration and Congress are working to restart moribund efforts to bury nuclear waste in the repository there.

While there is concern that someday — centuries or millenniums in the future — radioactive waste could contaminate the water in the Amargosa watershed, the more immediate threat is the need to pump enough groundwater to support the huge repository infrastructure.

“That would require thousands of acre-feet of water per year for up to a century,” said Robert J. Halstead, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Development, which opposes a Yucca Mountain repository. “That would clearly threaten the sustainability of the groundwater resource in Amargosa Valley.”

The State of Nevada, in its ongoing, tooth and nail resistance to the Yucca dump, has refused to grant the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) access to such precious, irreplaceable water resources. H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, in its original form, would have taken away such water rights from Nevada, enabling DOE to have its way at the Yucca site. However, "them's fighting words": the push back by Nevada and other Western states -- where such water rights are sacred -- was immediate and intense. Bill sponsor John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois) backed down, for now, on that point. But he's made clear, as have even liberal Democratic U.S. House supporters of screwing Nevada, such as Paul Tonko of New York, that when the time is right (such as when it can be more easily snuck through, or forced through, once facts on the ground momentum had been established), then such water rights could be taken away from Nevada, to allow construction and operation of the Yucca dump.

However, the article does not mention the Timbisha Band of Western Shoshone Indians, who live downstream of Yucca Mountain, in Death Valley, CA. Yucca's now pristine groundwater surfaces as springs and surface waters in Death Valley, and is depended on by the Timbisha for drinking water.

The Western Shoshone traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering throughout the Yucca Mountain and Amargosa River region extends back to "time immemorial," as the late Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney was wont to say. Modern lifestyles are very recent there. So there is a good chance that traditional lifestyles could well be lived by Western Shoshone in the area again in the future. And yet U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Environmental Protection Agency analyses of future Yucca Mountain dump radioactive leakage/contamination impacts on the region's ground- and surface waters, vis a vis traditional Western Shoshone life ways, has been woefully inadequate for 30+ years, and still is. This represents a serious environmental injustice, radioactive racism.

Beyond that, Yucca Mountain, much of Nevada, and portions of California and Idaho are Western Shoshone Indian land, as clearly acknowledged by the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. The U.S. government's repeated violations of this treaty -- as by 30+ years of trying to force the Yucca dump down the Western Shoshone nation's throat, nuclear weapons testing on their lands, etc. -- is a betrayal of foundational American values and rule of law: international treaties signed by the U.S. government are the highest law of the land, equal in stature to the U.S. Constitution itself.

The thriving agricultural town of Amargosa Valley, Nevada -- very near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge focused upon in the article -- also depends on Yucca's groundwater for drinking and irrigation. It would also be in harm's way, when radioactivity began leaking from the Yucca dump.

Saturday
Dec162017

Committee Turf Battle Marks Latest Chapter of Yucca Mountain Fight

As reported by the National Journal: 

Two [U.S.] House panels are at odds over a new push to force action on moving nuclear waste to the controversial Nevada site.

(Please note, the rest of the article is behind a pay wall.)

Friday
Nov242017

Maurice Hinchey, N.Y. congressman who championed environmental issues, dies at 79

As reported in an obituary in the Washington Post.

As the article reports:

Mr. Hinchey, a Democrat, retired from Congress in 2013 after 20 years there and 18 years in New York’s State Assembly, where he developed an expertise on environmental issues.

As chair of the assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, he led hearings into the disaster at Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood where it emerged in the 1970s that a chemical company had dumped 22,000 tons of toxic waste decades earlier. Complaints about miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems among residents made the area a symbol of environmental catastrophe and led to federal Superfund legislation to clean up the nation’s abandoned waste sites.

In the 1980s, Mr. Hinchey was the main sponsor of a New York law that was the nation’s first aimed specifically at fighting acid rain.

As a congressman, Mr. Hinchey continued to delve into environmental and energy issues, including promoting solar power, fighting a planned high-voltage power line in his district and speaking out against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The gas-drilling technique was at one point being eyed for parts of his district before New York banned it in 2014.

The obituary quoted his colleagues:

“The champion we all longed for, he feared no giants and stood up to every bully, in politics, in business and in all of life,” said Democratic state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who was among Mr. Hinchey’s first staffers in the assembly.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described Mr. Hinchey in a statement as a “tireless progressive champion for American families.”

“He leaves us with a legacy of leadership and a lifetime of public service,” she said, “that embody the best of America.”

An example of Congressman Hinchey's standing up to the bullies of the nuclear power industry lobby was his vote against "screwing Nevada" by dumping the country's high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, against the state's will.

On May 8, 2002, Hinchey was one of 117 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against overriding Nevada's veto of the Yucca Mountain dump. He joined 102 fellow Democrats, 13 Republicans, and one Independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) in doing so.

Although the House vote was a blow out in favor of "screwing Nevada," by a 306 to 117 vote, the bare majority of House Democrats (103 to 102) who stood with Nevada set the stage for a closer vote in the U.S. Senate on July 9th. Although the override of Nevada's veto also passed there, by a vote of 60 to 39, it was nonetheless close enough -- combined with unending grassroots activism from coast to coast, over the course of 30+ years -- to set the stage for President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain dump project in 2009-2010.