Energy Secretary Admits That Nuclear Waste Will Pile Up Even
By H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Friday, May 17, 2002
WASHINGTON - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham acknowledged on
Thursday that a proposed Nevada waste dump will be too small to
accommodate all the nation's nuclear waste and might have to be
Under intense questioning from Nevada's two senators, Abraham
conceded that the Yucca Mountain repository as currently envisioned could
handle only a fraction of the waste expected to be generated by
commercial power plants and the government in the coming decade.
Thousands of tons of "this stuff is still going to be (stored) around the
country," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told Abraham, who acknowledged that
probably would be the case.
The Bush administration has argued repeatedly that the proposed
Nevada repository should be built so that radioactive waste now at
commercial power reactors and federal sites in 39 states can be
consolidated and better protected at a single location.
About 45,000 tons of radioactive waste currently are kept around the
country. Another 20,000 tons are expected to be generated by power
reactors before Yucca Mountain can be opened, Abraham said.
If a federal license is obtained, the Yucca facility would be scheduled
accept its first waste shipments in 2010. Abraham said it would receive a
minimum 3,000 tons of waste a year for 23 years. The industry has
estimated that reactors produce about 2,000 tons of new waste annually.
Ensign and his Nevada colleague, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, said
those figures debunk the administration's national security argument,
since thousands of tons of waste will remain without a central repository
even after Yucca Mountain becomes filled to capacity.
Still, insisted Abraham, any waste taken to Yucca Mountain would be
waste no longer kept in less-safe temporary facilities, including some near
highly populated or environmentally sensitive areas.
After the hearing, Abraham opened the possibility that the Yucca
Mountain facility eventually might be expanded. Congress has limited its
initial design to 77,000 tons of waste, but Abraham said a future energy
secretary after 2007 can consider expansion. Abraham said the Nevada
site has room for more than the initial 77,000 tons. It was unclear how
such a move would affect the project's licensing or the likelihood of
legal challenges by Nevada.
President Bush designated the Nevada site as the country's central
nuclear waste repository and said he would seek a federal license for it.
was its right under a 1982 nuclear waste law, Nevada filed a formal
objection. That can be overridden only by majority vote of both chambers of
The House already has overridden the Nevada veto. The Senate must
vote before July 26, or the Nevada objection will stand. The Nevadans are
waging a difficult fight. A survey in this week's National Journal magazine
showed that 48 senators already planned to vote against Nevada, with 32
Abraham reiterated his conviction that the Yucca Mountain site, which
has been studied for two decades, is geologically safe to hold the waste,
which will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.
Nevada's senators have long argued that even if Yucca Mountain were
built, thousands of tons of used reactor fuel would still be kept at
around the country. They also have argued that shipping wastes through
43 states would pose greater risks than leaving the caches where they are.
Abraham rejected the claims that the waste would pose a transportation
hazard. The government and nuclear industry has had "30 years of safe
shipment of spent nuclear fuel ... without any harmful radiation release,"
Copyright 2002, Associated Press
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