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.



NRC pleads lack of sufficient funds to resume Yucca Mountain dump licensing proceeding

Yucca Mountain's western face, as viewed through the frame of a Western Shoshone Indian ceremonial sweat lodge. Photo by Gabriela Bulisova.As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, despite a ruling by a three-judge panel from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that the Yucca Mountain dump licensing proceeding should be resumed, a lawyer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has admitted that there are not enough funds in the coffers to do so, with no relief in sight. The Obama administration, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), have zeroed out funding for the Yucca Mountain Project for several years.

The Review Journal reported that the State of Nevada has vowed to fight on if the licensing proceeding is resumed:

"...Halstead [Director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects] offered assurance that Nevada's legal team is prepared for a fight if the appeals panel signals resumption of the hearings. 'If they restart the licensing proceedings, we're ready to bloody them up on 200-plus contentions, and 100 of those are really, really strong,' he said. 'This is not going to be a cakewalk through the license application.'"

As reported by the Aiken Standard, however, Aiken County, South Carolina -- home to large amounts of high-level radioactive waste at the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex -- is arguing the licensing proceeding should resume post haste, with whatever funding is available. Aiken County, the State of South Carolina, and the State of Washington sued the federal government, to force the resumption of the Yucca licensing proceeding.

Ironically enough, while Aiken County and the State of South Carolina seek to export their high-level radioactive wastes to Yucca Mountain, Nevada, pro-nuclear boosters are simultaneously volunteering -- and lobbying the federal government -- to import large quantitites of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel for "centralized interim storage," and even reprocessing, at the Savannah River Site.


25 years ago today, the "Screw Nevada Bill" was passed

Yucca Mountain, as viewed through the frame of a ceremonial Western Shoshone sweat lodge. Photo by Gabriela Bulisova.As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, in the wee hours of Dec. 22, 1987, 49 states ganged up on one, singling out Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole site in the country for further study as a potential national dump for high-level radioactive waste. Numerous targeted dumpsites in the East had been indefinitely postponed a year or two before, due to widespread public resistance. Deaf Smith County, TX and Hanford, WA were also being considered for the western dumpsite. But TX had 32 U.S. Representatives, WA had a dozen, and NV, just one. TX and WA Representatives also held the powerful House Speaker and Majority Leader slots. On the Senate side, NV had two rookie Senators, regarded at the time as easy to roll. The "raw, naked" political decision was made behind closed doors.

But the science -- Yucca's geological and hydrological unsuitability -- caught up to the proposal. So did Harry Reid's revenge, as he grew in power to become Senate Majority Leader. Led by Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney, the Western Shoshone National Council maintained tireless opposition to the dump, joined, over time, by more than 1,000 environmental groups. Then, in 2009, President Obama and his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, wisely cancelled the dangerous, controversial proposal.

Although $11 billion of ratepayer and taxpayer money had already been wasted, another $90 billion would have been wasted if the project had gone forward. If the dumpsite had opened, many thousands of high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and barges would have travelled through most states, past the homes of tens of millions of Americans, at risk of severe accidents or intentional attacks unleashing disastrous amounts of radioactivity into metro areas. And if wastes had been buried at Yucca, it would have eventually leaked into the environment (beginning within centuries or at most thousands of years), dooming the region downwind and downstream as a nuclear sacrifice area.

Dec. 21st marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.


NRC's Nuke Waste Confidence EIS will delay reactor licenses for at least two years!

Cover of Beyond Nuclear's pamphlet "A Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High"The five Commissioners who direct the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have just ordered NRC Staff to carry out an expedited, two-year long Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to revise the agency's Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision (NWCD) and Rule. Critics have charged the NWCD is a confidence game, which for decades has prevented environmental opponents of new reactor construction/operation licenses, as well as old reactor license extensions, from raising high-level radioactive waste generation/storage concerns during NRC licensing proceedings, or even in the federal courts. 

But on June 8th, the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with a coalition of state attorneys general (from NY, CT, NJ, and VT) and environmental groups (including BREDL, NRDC, Riverkeeper and SACE) that NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence violated the National Environmental Policy Act. In effect, the court ruling, which NRC decided not to appeal, ordered the agency to carry out a decades-overdue EIS on the risks of extended (for decades, centuries, or forever) high-level radioactive waste storage at reactor sites, if a permanent repository is never opened.

From the 1987 "Screw Nevada Bill" onwards, NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence rested on Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the only site in the U.S. under consideration to become a high-level radioactive waste repository. As Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes has put it, Yucca served for 25 years as an "illusion of a solution" for the high-level radioactive waste problem, allowing unlimited reactor operations, and thus waste generation, despite no real solution for the perhaps unsolvable problem. But in 2009-2010, President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu cancelled the Yucca Mountain dump proposal, dispelling the illusion, showing NRC's confidence to be false.

This means at least a two year delay in any finalization of NRC licensing decisions for new reactors, or license extensions at old reactors, until this EIS process and NWCD revision are completed. However, all other aspects of the NRC licensing proceedings can still be finalized and dispensed with in the meantime, taking NRC rubberstamps of reactor licenses right up to the edge, just shy of finalization. Beyond Nuclear has raised Nuke Waste Con Game contentions in opposition to two proposed new reactors (Fermi 3 in MI, and Grand Gulf 2 in LA), as well as to two old reactor license extensions (Davis-Besse, OH, and Grand Gulf 1, LA). An environmental coalition has raised similar contentions against all three dozen new reactor construction/operation, and old reactor extension, licenses across the U.S.

Disconcertingly, the NRC Commissioners' press release announcing this EIS launch also stated: "The Commission said the staff should draw on the agency’s 'long, rich history' with waste confidence determinations as well as work performed by other agencies, such as environmental assessments, technical studies and reports addressing the impacts of transportation and consolidated storage of spent fuel."

This seems to indicate that the NRC has joined with the likes of President Obama's and Energy Secretary Chu's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in pushing for "consolidated interim storage" instead of "hardened on-site storage" of high-level radioactive waste. This should come as no surprise, as NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane served on the BRC.

Legislation has already been introduced on Capitol Hill that would launch and fund "consolidated interim storage."U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman will hold a hearing on such legislation on Sept. 12th. Witnesses will include two other members of the BRC -- one of its co-chairmen, General Brent Scrowcroft, and former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve -- as well as Pete Lyons, himself a former NRC Commissioner, and now director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, mandated to promote nuclear power, and in fact host agency for the BRC. Another witness is the head of Constellation Nuclear, recently acquired by Exelon Nuclear, which would love nothing more than transferring title -- and liability -- for high-level radioactive waste to the American taxpayer, once it begins moving by road, rail, and/or barge, in unprecedented shipment numbers, toward "consolidated interim storage." The final witness is Geoff Fettus, the nuclear attorney at NRDC who helped lead the environmental coalition's victory at the DC Court of Appeals on June 8th. 

Beyond Nuclear has already issued action alerts against the juggernaut revving its engines on Capitol Hill. We have also joined with the likes of Nuclear Energy Information Service, to hold a "Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High" conference Dec. 1-3 in Chicago. Kevin Kamps will speak about federal legislative threats on the high-level radioactive waste front, and what you can do about them. The grassroots environmental movement has held off the "Mobile Chernobyl" for 20 years, but this may be the most challenging fight yet in 2013. The Nuke Waste Con EIS also means we have to generate large volumes of public comments, so this conference will be a a launching pad for doing so. Please consider attending, and help spread the word!

For more information on "The Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High," see our pamphlet by that title (the pamphlet's cover is reproduced above, left), as well as the rest of Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste website section.


Beyond Nuclear files contentions against 4 atomic reactors based on court ruling nullifying NRC's Nuke Waste Con Game

Although not named explicitly, NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision assumed the Yucca Mountain dump would open in NV. But the Obama administration wisely canceled it. In this photo by Gabriela Bulisova, a ceremonial Western Shoshone Indian sweat lodge frames their sacred Yucca Mtn.Beyond Nuclear has filed intervention contentions against a total of four atomic reactors (proposed new reactors at Grand Gulf Unit 3, MS and Fermi Unit 3, MI seeking construction and operating licenses, as well as degraded old reactors at Grand Gulf Unit 1, MS and Davis-Besse Unit 1, OH seeking 20 year license extensions) based on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling gutting the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision."

That confidence game has been used against states, environmental groups, and concerned citizens for decades, blocking them from challening the generation of high-level radioactive waste in atomc reactor licensing proceedings, as the NRC has flippantly expressed "confidence" that storage on-site was safe for decades or even centuries, and that a geologic repository for permanently disposing of irradiated nuclear fuel was just over the horizon -- despite mounting evidence to the contrary.



Yucca dump's cancellation, court's nullification of NRC's Nuclear Waste Con Game, blocks to nuclear expansion

In a blog posted at Forbes, climate denier and nuclear power proponet Larry Bell cannot deny the the Obama administration's wise cancellation of the proposed high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, represents a powerful block to nuclear power's expansion in the U.S. Likewise, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' recent ruling, that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision" assurances of irradiated nuclear fuel safety and security at reactor sites for 120 years was unfounded, powerfully undermines the Nuclear Relapse.