DOE Requests Proposals to Manage LANL

* House Supports Commercial Waste Storage at DOE Sites

The House of Representatives recently passed the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which includes a proposal for storing and reprocessing spent commercial nuclear fuel at Department of Energy (DOE) sites. The proposal is in response to continued problems with the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository located near Las Vegas, Nevada, which is scheduled to begin receiving such waste by 2012.

According to the proposal, called the Spent Fuel Recycling Initiative, DOE sites, Department of Defense sites or closed military bases may begin receiving spent nuclear fuel by 2006. The proposal would cost $15.5 million. None of these types of sites have been licensed to store or reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which is produced as a result of nuclear energy production.

There are approximately 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel sitting at 70 sites across the nation. Although it represents only 1% of the total nuclear waste in the U.S., it contains 95% of the total radioactivity. Many opponents of the proposal are concerned that transporting this extremely dangerous material to DOE, Defense or military sites nationwide may put communities along transportation routes at risk. For example, a 1986 study found that an accident involving spent nuclear fuel in a rural setting including a high-speed impact with fire and fuel oxidation would contaminate a 42 square mile area, require 462 days to clean up and cost $620 million.

In a letter to the members of the House of Representatives, a coalition of 29 disarmament, environmental and peace organizations nationwide, including the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and Public Citizen, stated, "There will be added risks to public health and safety as waste is transported to interim storage sites on busy highways and railroads across the nation."

Many are concerned that such a proposal would allow for high-level nuclear waste to be stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, although the federal WIPP law forbids disposing of high-level waste there. However, many are concerned that this would open the door for permanent disposal of high-level waste at WIPP should Yucca Mountain never open.

Representatives Edward Markey and Rush Holt attempted to stop the measure by introducing a contradictory amendment. Representative Holt is especially concerned that the waste would be stored at closed military bases, as he represents New Jersey, which is slated for one base closure. He joins decision makers nationwide concerned about waste storage at unlicensed military bases. For example, Maine Governor John Baldacci said, "to think that someone could put nuclear waste [at one of Maine’s decommissioned bases] is outrageous."

The amendment called for spending the required $15.5 million on state energy efficiency efforts instead. However, the amendment failed to pass with a vote of 312 to 110.

In a thank you letter to Representatives supportive of the amendment, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability said, "...Interim storage at [these] sites is contrary to legal agreements made with states and tribes as [the federal government] has already committed to cleaning up these sites, not adding more pollution to them."

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