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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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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.

Thursday
Dec122013

Senate Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump bill delayed, but vigilance still needed!

The Mobile Chernobyl mock nuke waste cask, a full size replica of a truck shipping container, shown in front of the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO during a cross-country educational tourAs reported by Hannah Northey of E&E on Nov. 22nd ("Senate panel to take up repository bill next month"), U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, had threatened to bring S. 1240, the so-called "Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013," up for a committee vote in December 2013. Dec. 19th was floated as a date for a committee mark up. But in recent days, it has become known that any action has been postponed into next year.

However, vigilance is still required. Thanks to all of you who have contacted your U.S. Senators to express opposition to S. 1240, the "Nuclear Waste Administration Act." If you haven't contacted your two U.S. Senators yet, please do so now. You can call them via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

If you have contacted your U.S. Senators already, thank you! But there is more you can do. Please continue to let them know you oppose this bill, and urge everyone you know to do the same.

Check to see if your U.S. Senator is on the ENR Committee. If so, consider organizing your friends and colleagues, and request to meet with your Senator during their holiday break back home. Your meeting with them could make a huge difference on their vote re: S. 1240! If a meeting with your Senator is refused, follow up with a request to meet with your Senator's staff on this issue.

If neither of your Senators serve on the ENR Committee, you can still urge them to contact their colleagues who do. Your Senators should urge their Senate colleagues on the ENR Committee to vote against S. 1240, in order to protect the interests of constituents in your state, including yourself!

S. 1240 is intentionally vague about Yucca Mountain, Nevada being targeted for centralized interim storage, and/or the permanent repository. For this reason, all those opposed to the Yucca dump should also be opposed to S. 1240!

See below for more background information.

BACKGROUND

Along with Wyden and Murkowski, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chair and Ranking Member on the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Appropriations, are co-sponsors of S. 1240. Critics have dubbed the "Gang of 4" U.S. Senators' proposed legislation the "Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump" bill. It would represent a huge giveaway to the already filthy rich nuclear power industry, and coup for its lobbyists, if they get away with the radiologically-risky, multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Beyond Nuclear provided extensive background on the dangerous bill last June, when it was first introduced. Despite calling for public comments on their draft legislation, the "Gang of 4" effectively ignored environmental and public interest concerns registered by the thousands. Shamefully, the bill, as introduced, was actually significantly worse than the initial "discussion draft," an indication of nuclear lobbyists' shady "ways and means" behind closed doors on Capitol Hill!

S. 1240 further revved its engines on July 30th, at an ENR Committee hearing.

It is urgent that you contact your two U.S. Senators, and urge that they put the brakes on this "Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump" bill, and stop it dead in its tracks. They can be contacted via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

If enacted, it would launch large numbers of risky high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and/or barges. The unprecedented shipping campaign would accomplish exactly nothing in terms of protecting public health, safety, and the environment. Quite to the contrary, it would bring high-level radioactive waste, in shipping containers vulnerable to severe accidents or terrorist attacks, through the heart of major metropolitan areas, such as Chicago. For more information on high-level radioactive waste transport risks, see NIRS's "Mobile Chernobyl/Fukushima Freeways" website section (such as the HLRW barges on waterways -- the Great Lakes, rivers, sea coasts -- sub-section, dated Sept. 28, 2004, which could now be dubbed "Floating Fukushimas"!).

Scores of environmental groups across the country have consistently opposed centralized interim storage, "de-linked" from progress on a permanent deep geological repository, for just such reasons, for a long time. It clearly risks the "temporary" parking lot dumps becoming de facto permanent, if and when the next deep geological repository is cancelled, just as the Yucca Mountain dump was (wisely so, given the geological unsuitability of the Nevada site, the environmental injustice of dumping high-level radioactive waste on Western Shoshone Indian treaty lands, etc.).

S. 1240 would create a radioactive waste shell game on the roads, rails, and waterways of many/most states, all in an effort to remove a major liability, cost, and PR headache from nuclear utilities' ledgers, and transfer them squarely onto the backs of U.S. taxpayers.

The recent federal court decision, ending DOE's collection of the meager 1/10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour fee on nuclear electricity ratepayers' bills, means that once the money currently remaining in the Nuclear Waste Fund is spent, there will be no more. Thus, those costs will eventually fall entirely on federal taxpayers. These costs could easily mount into the tens, and even hundreds, of billions of dollars over time. No other industry, besides nuclear power, enjoys such public subsidies.

The bill seeks to open a "pilot consolidated interim storage site" by 2021. HLRW from "orphaned" or "stranded" sites -- permanently closed atomic reactors -- would be given priority in the shipping queue. The supposed justification for this is to return decommissioned nuclear power plant sites to productive, economic use. This ignores the fact that those sites are still radioactively contaminated, despite so-called "clean up." It also ignores community groups who oppose the immoral idea of dumping their community's problems onto someone else.

The top targets for the "pilot" parking lot dump include: already contaminated and/or radiologically-burdened U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites, such as Savannah River Site (SRS), SC; Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), NM; and Idaho National Lab (INL); Native American lands, such as the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in UT, or a number of unnamed reservations which the Nuclear Energy Institute has claimed, for several years, to be in secretive negotiations with; and/or operating nuclear power plant sites, such as the co-located Exelon Dresden nuclear power plant/GE-Hitachi independent spent fuel storage pool, just southwest of Chicago, already "home" to 3,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste.

The bill largely guts any notion of "consent-based" siting, by allowing for potential interim storage sites to be characterized, and even declared suitable, before "consent" is even sought from the community. The momentum already built, coupled with lucrative, promised incentives, would make it very difficult for communities of color, or those in dire economic straits, to resist. The nuclear power establishment in industry and government has repeatedly violated environmental justice in this way for decades, and appears poised to do so yet again!

S. 1240 also expresses a preference that the "pilot" interim storage site become the full-scale interim storage site by 2025, and even then the permanent deep geologic repository (DGR, or dumpsite) by 2048. No limit to how much HLRW could be rushed to the interim storage site(s), nor how much HLRW could be dumped at the first DGR, could mean that a single site would become the "nuclear sacrifice area" for the entire country, as was previously attempted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In fact, there are no safeguards in the legislation that would protect Yucca from again being targeted. And, a supposedly "interim storage" site appears all-too-likely to become a de facto permanent "disposal" site, whether that be by abandonment on the surface, or burial underground. This risk is made all the worse by the bill's lack of a requirement for any progress on permanent disposal during the first 10 years of interim storage facility operations.

What S. 1240 also does not call for is Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS), which is what hundreds of environmental and public interest groups representing all 50 states have called for, time and time again, for well over a decade now. In addition, more and more groups are saying "STOP MAKING IT!", as at the recent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) nuke waste con game public comment meetings around the country.

To the contrary, Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) has attempted to justify her legislative proposals as essential for paving the way for SMRs (so-called Small Modular Reactors) to be built in the U.S. (to the tune of billions of dollars of federal taxpayer expense, in the form of RDD -- research, development, and demonstration -- subsidies, the subcommittee chair for such appropriations forgot to mention).

As reported by Beyond Nuclear on Jan. 16, 2013:

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has praised the Obama administration's call for centralized interim storage. Revealingly, she expressed her support in the context of a pro-nuclear expansion agenda: "Delaying the creation of a long-term policy on nuclear waste would simply make the problems more complex and dangerous -- particularly with the development of a generation of new small modular reactors." (emphasis added)

In fact, so too did President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. If the name of the commission wasn't bad enough, its behavior, beginning in 2010, and final report in 2012, made clear that the top priority for "solving the high-level radioactive waste problem" was to pave the way for a nuclear power expansion. Despite claiming to be open and welcoming of public input, the Blue Ribbon Commission summarily ignored the thousands of public comments submitted over its two year existence. While the Blue Ribbon Commission was forced to listen to oral comments made at its numerous meetings around the country, it was later learned that written comments had not even been read before the BRC submitted its final report to Congress. Even worse, the website archive of those written comments, and even the transcripts and recordings of the public meetings themselves, became inaccessible on the BRC's abandoned website, making all that hard-won information unobtainable by the public. The BRC website was restored when the problem was called to DOE's attention by environmental watchdogs, but under the telling name "Cyber Cemetery."

The Senate ENR Committee has behaved similarly. In early 2013, it called for public input on its "Discussion Draft" of S. 1240. 2,500 comments were submitted, including by Beyond Nuclear, but were summarily ignored. The final draft of S. 1240 was worse than the discussion draft! Further changes for the worse can be expected in S. 1240, due to the corrupting influence of nuclear industry lobbyists and their campaign contributions.

Saturday
Dec072013

One oral comment opportunity (call-in only) left on NRC's nuke waste con game DGEIS, Mon., 12/9; final written submissions due by 12/20

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.

From 1 to 4 PM Eastern on Monday, Dec. 9th is the last opportunity to submit oral comments to NRC -- via a call-in teleconference -- re: its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement. Here is how to join the call: Prior to the start of the meeting, please dial
1-888-603-9749
and provide the operator with passcode 5132332.

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, NIRS, NEIS, and many others.

For additional background, including reports back from the public comment meetings across the country, click here.

Wednesday
Nov202013

Court rulings revive Yucca dump licensing proceeding, end collection of Nuclear Waste Fund fees

Will the Yucca dump zombie rise again? Nevada says NO! Political cartoon by Jim Day, Las Vegas Review Journal, 2010 (be sure to count the toes!)In 1987, it was "Screw Nevada." Now, it appears to be "screw the taxpayer," and "screw future generations."

Rulings issued by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia have led to a partial revival of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) dump's licensing proceeding before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), while ordering the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to end Nuclear Waste Fund fee collections intended to ultimately pay for HLRW disposal.

On Nov. 18th, the five NRC Commissioners issued an order to the agency's staff to complete its Safety Evaluation Report (SER) regarding DOE's cancelled plan to bury 70,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste less than 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on sacred Western Shoshone Indian Nation treaty lands. The Commission order comes in response to a 2-1 split decision at the DC Appeals Court in August. Two Republican appointees mandated NRC resume the Yucca licensing proceeding, so long as related funds remain in its coffers to do so. The dissenting Democratic appointee referred to the majority decision as the "doing of a useless act."

In fact, the Commission order admits that completing the five volume SER over the next year will likely deplete most of the $11 million in NRC's carryover funding remaining from its Nuclear Waste Fund allocations. The NRC Commissioners also requested that DOE supplement its previous Yucca Mountain Environmental Impact Statement.

Speaking of the Nuclear Waste Fund, another DC Appeals Court ruling issued on Nov. 19th appears to have ended it. The three-judge panel (comprised exclusively of Republican appointees) has ordered DOE to stop collecting Nuclear Waste Fund fees. Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act 30 years ago, DOE has collected one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour of nuclear generated electricity. This surcharge on ratepayers consuming nuclear eletricity has never been adjusted for inflation since. It has generated some $30 billion. Some $8 billion of that was spent studying the Yucca site. But Yucca's total price tag, if constructed and operated, was estimated to have been around $100 billion, tens of billions of dollars more than the Nuclear Waste Fund fee would ever collect.

The open secret was that federal taxpayers would have been looked to, in order to make up the shortfall. That geologic disposal shortfall will now grow even bigger, now that no collection will take place to pay for the management of irradiated nuclear fuel. Hence, today's court ruling amounts to one big "screw the taxpayer" and "screw future generations." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was forced to admit, under court order, that HLRW will remain hazardous for a million years.

Of course, the only true solution to such costs and risks lasting forevermore is to not generate HLRW in the first place! But enough already existed by spring 2010 to fill the first repository. This "mountain of radioactive waste" grows by 2,000 tons each year, as 100 atomic reactors are still generating irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S.

Nevada's state and federal elected leaders have pledged vigilance against any effort to revive the Yucca dump. The Silver State never accepted the 1987 "Screw Nevada" amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which singled out Yucca as the only proposed dumpsite in the U.S. to be further considered. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has led that resistance for over 25 years. He has blocked any additional congressional appropriations for the Yucca Mountain Project since Fiscal Year 2011, and appears ready, willing, and able to continue protecting his constituents.

Monday
Sep092013

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.