Standing firm against nuclear waste

The Review-Journal’s Aug. 18 editorial headlined “Nuclear waste politics” urged Nevadans to have or participate in a conversation on Yucca Mountain. What conversation, with whom, about what? The Department of Energy filed a license application withdrawal to end the project three years ago. The DOE has been clear — the site is unworkable and not an option for a nuclear waste disposal facility.

It was rightly pointed out that our previous experience with the Yucca Mountain project included the “Screw Nevada” bill and moving goalposts, including ever-changing standards and timetables. At one time, early on, officials from the DOE were holding frequent public meetings, and we were being assured that if any of the repository rules, regulations or guidelines could not be met, the DOE would happily walk away. Over many years, while large sums of money were poured into the project, we saw that rules and regulations that could not be met were changed, and the guidelines were eliminated.

Those of us who were there throughout all of that time remember the siting guidelines that had qualifying and disqualifying conditions. Yucca Mountain has an undeniable disqualifier — fast moving groundwater — and the site only passed muster if there were no guidelines at all.

I think it is a mistake to talk about the DOE’s consideration of sending a very different sort of waste to the Nevada National Security Site (formerly called the Nevada Test Site) and Yucca Mountain at the same time, but it was part of the editorial. Defense low-level radioactive waste that meets strict acceptance criteria has been accepted, with Nevada’s consent, at the NNSS for many years. But the editorial is wrong when it states: “… similar materials have been buried there for decades.”

Not so. There is low-level waste buried in shallow trenches in designated areas at the NNSS, but this material — unlike other waste accepted or acceptable for receipt there — is not the same. While planning to bring this unusual uranium waste to Nevada, the waste acceptance criteria had to be, and was, changed. This radioactive material is much more dangerous, requires remote handling and has components that can be used for dirty bombs. The U.S. would strenuously oppose any other country’s plan to similarly toss material like this into a trench.

The Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force will continue to oppose the repository project at Yucca Mountain, not because we have bought into some doomsday scenario sold by a political fear monger, but because Yucca Mountain will not isolate these wastes for their dangerous lifetime. As the previous Secretary of Energy said, the plan is unworkable.

The Review-Journal has recently run articles about the drought in our area and shrinking water supply. We cannot afford any of the radioactive contamination in Nevada’s aquifers that would eventually occur if high-level nuclear waste and irradiated nuclear fuel is placed in Yucca Mountain.

Politicians in Nevada who opposed Yucca Mountain and more dangerous waste being brought to the NNSS have been voted into office by the citizens here who want leaders to stop these actions by the government. The elected officials oppose these policies because their constituents require that they do — not the other way around.

Your editorial urges Nevada officials to have a constructive relationship with the DOE. There has been one for years, regarding the low-level waste disposal areas at NNSS. It was threatened by DOE’s recent quick and quiet change to the waste acceptance criteria, allowing for far more dangerous waste to be brought to Nevada. We are always willing to participate in discussions, but we and other Nevadans do not have evolving opinions about the risks posed to our economy, our environment or our health by a Yucca Mountain repository.

Judy Treichel is executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force

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