Cancer Researcher, Anderson Will Warn Senators on Yucca by Judy Fahys
Salt Lake Tribune -- Wednesday, May 22, 2002

A respected physician and cancer researcher will tell a U.S. Senate committee today that an accident while transporting tons of nuclear waste across Utah could once again expose residents to radiation, with consequences that might include more lung cancer, leukemia and bone tumors.

Huntsman Cancer Institute Director Stephen M. Prescott said Tuesday his testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Commitee will discuss his experience with cancer patients whose deaths may have been caused by exposure to radiation.

Utahns in past decades have been exposed to radiation from uranium mining and weapons testing, Prescott will testify, and a new threat could come from the government's plan to store the nation's high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev. Much of it would be transported across Utah.

"I guarantee you, if they [the senators] saw patients in the clinic, they would not dismiss the [accidental exposure] risk," Prescott said in an interview, recalling his work with a dying uranium miner. "It gets to you."

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson also is scheduled to testify today against the Yucca facility. The Energy Committee will vote in two weeks on whether to approve the dump, with a vote in the full Senate after that. The U.S. House already has given its approval.

Nevada's U.S. senators, both Republicans, invited the Utahns to help make the case that shipping and burying the deadly waste at Yucca Mountain puts too many people at risk. The committee has given opponents today to air their opposition.

Anderson also will talk about safety, underscoring horrific scenarios that could unfold in the dozens of metropolitan areas that can expect high-level waste shipments almost daily if power plants begin sending their spent fuel to Yucca Mountain. In advance copies of his testimony, the mayor describes federal nuclear-waste policy as shortsighted, inadequate, irresponsible and undemocratic.

"We have a major stake in the debate," says Anderson, who urges senators to revamp the national policy.

The mayor tops his prepared testimony with a picture that the> defunct Atomic Energy Commission used on pamphlets reassuring Utahns and Nevadans that open-air nuclear weapons testing would cause them no harm. It depicts a cowboy on his horse in the desert watching a mushroom cloud explode on the horizon. Recent government reports have attributed more than 15,000 cancer deaths in the United States since 1951 to weapon tests worldwide, as well as 20,000 more cancer cases that were not fatal.

"The people of Utah were lied to repeatedly when told that government plans were safe -- we will not be lied to again," Anderson says in his testimony. "We will not allow Congress and the Department of Energy to treat Utah and Nevada as remote, disposable places, where the self-inflicted problems of the reckless nuclear-power industry -- and of a federal government that has been astoundingly irresponsible in its nuclear policy -- can be conveniently dumped."

Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have voted in favor of building the repository, but recently pledged to take a fresh look at the issue. Republican Reps. Jim Hansen and Chris Cannon voted for Yucca Mountain, while Anderson's fellow Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson, opposed it.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who has been the Yucca Mountain plan's most vocal opponent, welcomed the insights Anderson and Prescott will proffer.

"The testimony from these two witnesses will send a clear message that Utahns do not want tons and tons of deadly nuclear waste traveling through their neighborhoods, and by their schools, parks and homes," said Reid, who graduated from Utah universities.

President Bush has approved the Yucca Mountain facility, but the state of Nevada vetoed the idea last month. Now Congress has until July 26 to override the state's decision.

Waste bound for Yucca Mountain could wind up parked for several years at a temporary storage facility proposed for the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation, about 45 miles from Salt Lake City. Utah congressmen are opposed to the Skull Valley facility.

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