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.



House Republicans likely to grill NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane regarding proposed Yucca dump

NRC Chairwoman Allison MacfarlaneU.S. House Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), and other Republican members of the subcommittee, are likely to grill U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane (photo, left) at a hearing on Tuesday, September 10th regarding her position on the long-moribund proposal to dump the nation's high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The hearing comes after a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ordered NRC to resume the long-suspended Yucca dump licensing proceeding, despite the lack of adequate funding.

NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane has already submitted her written testimony.

Rep. Shimkus has multiple atomic reactors in his congressional district, and has long been a loud advocate for the nuclear power industry. Illinois has more commercial atomic reactors than any other state (3 permanently closed, but 11 still operating), and consequently more HLRW than any other state. IL has a whopping 9,000 tons of irradiated fuel, including 772 tons at the General Electric-Hitachi Morris pool, located next door to Exelon's Dresden nuclear power plant (2 operating GE Mark I BWRs) in Morris, IL. GE-Morris has stored HLRW from multiple reactors across the country for four decades. GE-Morris was to be a reprocessing facility, but never operated due to a major design flaw that risked large-scale radioactive emissions to the environment, had the facility ever fired up. Exelon, headquartered in Warrenville, DuPage County, IL, just outside Chicago, is the single largest nuclear utility in the U.S., with some two-dozen atomic reactors in its fleet.

It is likely that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will pop in for the hearing, as he is an ex officio member of the subcommittee. Upton has long led the charge in the U.S. House for opening the Yucca dump over the objections of the State of Nevada, its U.S. congressional delegation, and the Western Shoshone Indian Nation. Upton himself has three atomic reactors in his congressional district (Entergy's Palisades unit, and the two reactors at American Electric Power's Cook nuclear power plant). Entergy Nuclear, which has a "dirty dozen" atomic reactors in its fleet, is one of Upton's top campaign contributors.

One of Upton's and Shimkus's top committee staffers, Annie Caputo, is a former Exelon Nuclear lobbyist.

Pro-dump advocates are calling for Macfarlane's recusal, given her co-editing of the book Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation's High-Level Nuclear Waste, a critical compilation of technical analyses of the dump proposal. Macfarlane is a Ph.D. geologist. The State of Nevada, for one, has defended Macfarlane's right to remain involved in the Yucca licensing review. After all, she has been subjected to U.S. Senate confirmation hearings twice, and found to be worthy of chairing the NRC.

The calls for recusal are quite hypocritical. Other NRC Commissioners, such as William Magwood IV and Christine Svinicki, have long advocated in favor of the Yucca dump, while working in the industry and for a Republican Member of the U.S. Senate, respectively. In fact, Svinicki worked on the Yucca dump while employed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a conflict of interest she did not reveal during her U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, much to the chagrin of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee. Despite all this, Yucca dump advocates have not called for Magwood or Svinicki's recusal from the Yucca proceeding.

Macfarlane's predecessor as NRC Chairman, Greg Jaczko, was despised by the nuclear power industry for his anti-dump work on Capitol Hill (as a top staffer for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), as well as a science fellow for Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)). The industry forced Jaczko to recuse himself from Yucca-related matters for his first two years (2005-2007) as a Commissioner at the NRC. Jaczko's order, as NRC Chairman, to suspend the Yucca licensing proceeding at NRC, given the Obama administration's zeroing out of the budget for the project, was the final straw for the nuclear industry and its champions in government: they demanded Jaczko's head. Upton conducted "witch hunt" hearings on Jaczko at the end of 2011. He eventually resigned under pressure in the summer of 2012.

Peter Lyons will also testify at the hearing. Lyons heads the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, in charge of promoting the industry. Lyons was formerly an NRC Commissioner, as well as a top staff aid to U.S. Senator Pete Dominici, one of the most pro-nuclear members of Congress of the past several decades.


NRC "Nuke Waste Con Game" draft GEIS published online, public comments to be accepted from Sept. 13 to Nov. 27

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Nuclear Waste Confidence draft GEIS (Generic Environmental Impact Statement) has been published online. Critics dub it a "Nuke Waste Con Game." The draft GEIS is nearly 600 pages long.

Once the draft GEIS has been officially published in the Federal Register next Friday, September 13th, a 75-day clock starts ticking. NRC will only accept public comments on the draft GEIS until November 27th.

Public comments will be accepted by NRC through various means: electronically, via fax or snail mail, or by way of oral testimony presented at a dozen public comment meetings to be held around the country from October 1st to mid-November.

Beyond Nuclear will provide the ways you can submit public comments to NRC beginning on September 13th. We will also provide sample comments, as well as talking points, to help you prepare your own written comments and/or oral testimony for the public meeting nearest you.


Court "orders the doing of a useless act": federal appeals panel orders NRC to resume Yucca dump licensing despite next to no funds

Jim Day, Las Vegas Review Journal, 2010 (be sure to court the toes!)

The Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump zombie's sixth toe twitched today.

By a 2-1 split decision, a three judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit approved a writ of mandamus sought by the States of Washington and South Carolina, et al., ordering the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to resume the licensing proceeding for the proposed Yucca Mountain national dumpsite for high-level radioactive waste (HLRW). NRC had suspended the proceeding for lack of congressionally appropriated funding in 2011.

Two of the appeals judges felt the $11.1 million remaining in NRC's Yucca licensing coffers is a substantial amount of funding with which to resume the proceedings.

But Chief Judge Garland disagreed, pointing out that in its last fully funded year of the proceedings, NRC budgeted nearly $100 million. Since, NRC has largely dismantled its digital and physical infrastructures for evening conducting the proceedings, as has the former license applicant, the U.S. Department of Energy, which has moved to withdraw the license application, and has let go its Yucca program staff.

He also pointed out that Yucca's ultimate price tag would require Congress to approve not just over $100 million per year in licensing support, but, if the application is ultimately approved, many tens of billions of dollars to carry out construction and operation (DOE's last estimate for the total cost of Yucca, should it proceed, made several years ago, was nearly $100 billion).

Chief Judge Garland then dissented to the ruling, arguing that what little money NRC has remaining should be used to preserve the existing records from this largest licensing proceeding in the agency's history, writing:

"In short, given the limited funds that remain available, issuing a writ of mandamus amounts to little more than ordering the Commission to spend part of those funds unpacking its boxes, and the remainder packing them up again."

Extensive media coverage of the court decision, and reactions to it, are posted at the State of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects "What's News" website.


"Ski Yucca Mountain in a Hazmat suit"

Joseph Woolfolk’s painting on glassThat's the title for the announcement of an art exhibition in the Las Vegas Weekly. The exhibit will feature Joseph Woolfolk’s paintings on glass.

The article concludes: '“Ski Yucca,” featuring a skier hitting the slopes wearing a gas mask and orange Hazmat suit, probably best sums up the clever and well-executed Poster Power.'

But this is not the first time that the high-level radioactive waste dump targeted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada has brushed up against cutting edge art work, or vice versa.

Joshua Abbey's Desert Space Foundation held a "Universal Warning Sign: Yucca Mountain" competition a decade ago. The idea was to come up with the best way to warn future generations "forevermore" about what was buried below.

Speaking of "Don't Dig Here," that is the title of a song about the Yucca dump performed by David Crosby and Graham Nash.

And the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) not having done it homework was starkly revealed, when its proposed railway for delivering 70,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste to Yucca scored a direct bull's eye on one of the single largest works of art ever conceived, Michael Heizer's "City" landscape sculpture in a remote Nevada desert valley. DOE hadn't realized Heizer's art was "in the way," till the artist protested the plan! The good news is, the Obama administration's wise cancellation of the Yucca dump will spare Heizer's "City," as well as countless other cities in most states along DOE's targeted Yucca dump transport corridors by truck, train, and barge.


House Republican leaders demand Yucca dump be included in irradiated nuclear fuel centralized interim storage bill

Yucca Mountain, as framed by a Western Shoshone Indian ceremonial sweat lodge. Photo by Gabriela Bulisova.As reported by Nuclear Power International/Power Engineering, as well as the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, holds that the formerly proposed dumpsite targeted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada must be included in any irradiated nuclear fuel centralized interim storage legislation.

Shimkus, as well as U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), have long been outspoken champions pushing for the Yucca dump, as well as many other nuclear power industry "wish list" lobbying priorities. Upton, for example, sponsored "Mobile Chernobyl" bills each and every session from 1995 to 2000, which would have established centralized interim storage at Yucca, long before countless scientific studies were completed, or permanent disposal authorized at the site. Yucca is located on Western Shoshone Indian land (see photo, left), as acknowledged by the U.S. federal government when it signed the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863.

On Jan. 11th, in response to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu's "Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste," Reps. Upton and Shimkus issued a joint statement calling for the resumption of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Yucca dump licensing proceeding.

However, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), as the senior member of the united, bipartisan Nevada congressional delegation, has devoted his political career to successfully stopping the Yucca dump. President Barack Obama agrees, and DOE Secretary Chu has zeroed out the funding for the Yucca Mountain Project for several years running now. Secretary Chu has also moved to withdraw DOE's application from NRC's moribund licensing proceeding.

Any away-from-reactor scheme -- whether the Yucca dump or so-called centralized interim storage parking lot dumps targeted at such locations as Savannah River Site, SC, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, NM, or Dresden nuclear power plant, IL -- would launch unprecedented numbers of risky irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and barges onto the roads, rails, and waterways.