To the editor:
I feel compelled to set the record straight regarding the Sept. 26 commentary by Danny Tarkanian:
On the issue of Yucca Mountain, Mr. Tarkanian claims that in 1987 the federal government agreed to pay Nevada $250 million per year while construction took place and an additional $500 million per year once the spent fuel was transported to the site. His math is off by $720 million.
The 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Act calls for Nevada to receive only $10 million and then $20 million annually. The state in 1987 declined those funds when the Nevada attorney general opined that the cost of accepting that money meant Nevada would give up its rights to manage safety oversight, participate in licensing, and its ability to say no if it felt the project wasn't safe after the site was studied. Nevada will receive no payments from the federal government if Yucca is built. To claim otherwise is untrue.
Mr. Tarkanian also wants the project changed to a recycling project, stating that it would immediately bring 7,000 jobs to Nevada. Even if our nation changed course and moved forward with reprocessing spent fuel, reprocessing advocates admit it would take decades to occur, therefore having no fix for our state's current economic problems. Furthermore, the nuclear industry has not supported reprocessing because the fuel it creates is six times more expensive than the fuel (uranium) they currently use. The United States is currently working to stop 30 non-nuclear nations from reprocessing fuel because it produces weapons grade plutonium, and we are trying to stop nuclear proliferation. Our nation doesn't reprocess commercial fuel. We tried it at Hanford, Wash., years ago, and the cost to clean up buried nuclear waste at Hanford is estimated by the Department of Energy to reach $230 billion.
France added reprocessing to its existing nuclear weapons program. It reduces spent fuel by a factor of four (not 95 percent, as Mr. Tarkanian stated), and it increases total nuclear waste by a factor of six. It actually increases the total volume of nuclear waste needed to be stored. France pumps 100 million gallons of liquid low-level nuclear waste into the sea every year. They are being sued by Ireland over that practice. Reprocessing needs a vast amount of water. The Yucca Mountain region has no available water.
Finally, our nation's nuclear waste and spent fuel is securely managed safely at its current reactor sites (not "dispersed haphazardly," as Mr. Tarkanian claims). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled that such dry cask storage is safe effectively through 2100.
In the future, science will come up with a better way to use leftover nuclear fuel, rather than permanently seal it into a leaky Yucca Mountain. Nevada has no leverage. It doesn't own the waste, the federal highways, railroads or the land it's proposed to be stored on. They didn't call it the "Screw Nevada Bill" for nothing.
Bruce H. Breslow
The writer is executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.