At Hearing, Experts Rip Safety of Waste Transport
By Benjamin Grove
Las Vegas Sun, May 22, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Nevada assembled six experts who testified in the
Senate today against a
Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, mostly arguing that the plan
In the second Senate committee hearing on Yucca Mountain since Gov.
vetoed the project last month, Nevada leaders put together a panel of
attacked the safety of transporting high-level nuclear waste to the
proposed dump 90 miles
northwest of Las Vegas.
The hearing followed one last week in which Energy Secretary Spencer
approval of the waste dump.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, whose city lies on the
transportation route, testified
today that more waste would travel through his town than any city
besides Las Vegas.
"Without adequate research as to the safety of transporting this
waste, without details of
where and how it will travel, the American public, our
representatives in Congress, and our
federal regulatory agencies are being asked to sign off on one of the
projects, and perhaps the most dangerous project, in the history of
the United States,"
The hearing in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee was a
disappointment to two of the Senate's leading Yucca Mountain
advocates, they said.
The hearing was designed to allow Nevada officials to air their
objections to Yucca
Mountain. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Larry Craig,
R-Idaho, said they
wanted to hear from Nevadans.
Instead, they heard from the state's panel of experts from around the
country who mostly
argued that waste shipping was dangerous.
That argument is "not pertinent" as the Senate ponders the narrow
question whether to
simply proceed with Yucca Mountain, Murkowski said.
"I was looking forward to hearing from the governor and the
Legislature about the reasons
for the state's veto as well as from any other Nevadans who may be
said. "One could easily assume, as I have implied, that the state
does not have a problem
with the site selection."
Nevada officials, who have loudly opposed the project throughout its
20-year history, flatly
Later in the hearing, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the state opted
to assemble experts who
could offer fresh perspectives.
"People would like this to be people from Nevada complaining. We
could do that, and we've
done it for years," Reid said.
Reid said he was disappointed that only a few senators on the
bothered to show up. Aside from Murkowski and Sen. Larry Craig,
R-Idaho, only two other
senators made brief appearances. Murkowski and Craig left before the
"I'm disappointed they didn't stay for the hearing, they may have
learned something," Reid
While senators often miss hearings due to conflicts in their
schedules, Sen. John Ensign,
R-Nev., said this hearing should have been a priority.
"It really is a shame the rest of the senators were not here to hear
this," Ensign said. "It's
such an important issue."
Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., allowed Reid and
Ensign to sit on the
committee and ask the panelists questions.
"The evidence is so clear against Yucca Mountain it is amazing to me
people still want to
go forward with it," Ensign said in his concluding remarks.
The Senate committee will hold its last Yucca hearing on Thursday
when more technical
experts are expected to testify. The committee likely will vote June
5 on whether to
recommend Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository. A full vote
of the Senate is
expected by early July. The House approved Yucca May 8.
Craig, a vocal Yucca Mountain supporter, accused the panelists of
fear mongering and
exaggerating the potential for danger in waste shipping.
But the Nevada senators -- and their assembled panelists -- said the
threat was real
considering potential accidents and terrorist acts.
"We have evil people in this country today who are looking for
targets," Reid said. "If there is
fear generating today, it's the right thing to do."
Craig said he understood the politics of that and said the state was
"really in the business
of trying to generate as much fear as possible."
Mayor Anderson said that's a mischaracterization of the anti-Yucca
"We are attempting to point out some of the massive terrorist risks,"
The panel included Robert Halstead, the state's transportation
consultant; Grand Valley
State University (Michigan) Professor James Ballard, a terrorism
expert and Nevada
consultant; Victor Gilinsky, former member of the Nuclear Regulatory
consultant; Michael Ervin, a former truck driver and police officer
in Pomona, Calif.; and
Stephen Prescott, director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah.
Ballard said terrorists are drawn to nuclear targets, especially
targets that are part of a
federal project. An accident could stigmatize a city and devastate
its economy, he said.
Prescott testified about the potential for people to get cancer from
a nuclear waste accident.
Prescott's institute still treats people from Western states whose
cancers they likely
developed from exposure to the fallout of nuclear tests at the Nevada
Test Site, he said.
"Now the citizens of the same region are being asked to assume the
risk of a (another
round of radiation exposure," he said. "We are told, again, that the risk will be low. But will
an anticipated accident during the transportation cause my neighbors
to develop lung
cancer? Leukemia? Bone tumors?"
Ervin said he had seen many truck crashes as a driver and cop. He
told senators that
truckers face challenges that would create waste-shipping risks,
including fatigue, weather,
careless drivers and truck failures.
"I think of a tractor-trailer rig as a missile," Ervin said. "The
question is, is it under control or
out of control?"
Nuclear industry and DOE officials assert that truck shipments would
be closely monitored,
satellite-tracked, and driven by fresh, alert drivers.
After the hearing, Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis dismissed
much of the testimony.
"This panel is bought and paid for by the state of Nevada today," he said.
Davis said that the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory
working together to assure that transportation is safe and that all
federal rules are followed.
"If they want to improve or expand the rules or make them tougher, we
will comply," Davis
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