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August 19, 2013

Court Decision on Yucca Mountain Doesn't Change a Thing: Yucca Mountain is Dead

Nuclear-0226On Tuesday August 13, a federal appeals court ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must restart its licensing process. The 1983 Nuclear Waste Policy Act required the NRC to approve or reject the Department of Energy's (DOE) license application for a repository to dump nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The DOE submitted their license application to the NRC in 2008 and filed a motion for its withdrawal in 2009 saying that the project was unworkable. This action by DOE prompted the filing of the lawsuit.   

According to Chief Judge Merrick Garland, the lack of funding for the project limits the impact of the court's ruling because it amounts to, "little more than ordering the commission to spend part of those funds unpacking its boxes, and the remainder packing them up again." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed, saying, "The place is locked up, it's padlocked. Nothing is happening with Yucca Mountain."

We support Senator Reid but know that for his statement to be reality we, the public, must show the sort of active opposition that made the DOE declare the project to be unworkable years ago.

Here’s a little history about Yucca Mountain. This site was designated by President George W. Bush’s administration as the site for the nation's repository for high-level nuclear waste, with plans to license the facility and send 70 thousand metric tons of radioactive waste to the site from all over the United States. But the process of choosing Yucca Mountain was flawed. Instead of using sound science, it was chosen through political action. And despite the $15.4 billion that has been spent on the repository project, all that is there is an exploratory tunnel into the mountain There are no tunnels for waste emplacement – no repository or dump.

Let's take a look at some facts:

Insane fact #1: Yucca Mountain lies in a "seismically" active area. Or more simply, Yucca Mountain lays in an area that experiences earthquake activity. In fact, Nevada ranks third in the nation for current seismic activity. The geological isolation that Yucca Mountain was supposed to provide would be impossible, and engineers have had to come up with one engineered solution after another. A huge headache.

Insane fact #2: Furthermore, regulators have consistently changed the standards for radiological exposure to satisfy operational parameters for the project. The designers and regulators for this project were initially faced with standards that were impossible to achieve, yet were required for public safety.

Insane fact #3: While some design aspects have been addressed, others are still up for discussion. For example, there hasn't been any field testing of the system for retrieving nuclear power rods stored there.

Insane fact #4: The transportation of radioactive materials hundreds, even thousands of miles into Nevada brings its own suite of public health and environmental risks. Mechanical failure and accidents have been compounded with threats presented by vandalism and terrorism.

Insane fact #5: Nevada doesn't even HAVE nuclear power. That's like getting lung cancer from second-hand smoke!

There is enough nuclear waste to completely fill Yucca Mountain already, and the evidence that Yucca is wrong for nuclear waste is too overwhelming to ignore. We, the public, have to make our opposition to Yucca loud and clear.

Radioactive waste storage is but one of the many issues associated with nuclear power. We must abandon nuclear power and move to a clean and renewable energy future.

-- Sierra Club Washington Rep Radha Adhar and Jane Feldman, Conservation Chair of the Southern Nevada Group of the Sierra Club

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