Senate Votes in Favor of Yucca Mountain

DOE Requests WIPP Permit Modifications

Senate Votes in Favor of Yucca Mountain

The Senate this week voted 60 to 39 in favor of the Bush administration's plan to store 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which is located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The vote gives final legislative approval to a plan that has been considered for almost 25 years. Bush argued that Yucca Mountain is "scientifically sound and suitable" for storing the commercial radioactive waste despite objections from the state of Nevada, scientists, and activist groups worldwide.

Bush claims that Yucca Mountain is necessary to protect the nation from a possible terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the site is located above an aquifer in an earthquake zone. Nearly 5,000 shipments of waste would travel through New Mexico alone, and the entire nation may be at risk of a catastrophic nuclear transportation accident.

The nuclear energy industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent an estimated $72 million since 1994 lobbying for Yucca Mountain. Both New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici voted in favor of the plan. Reports indicate that Bingaman and Domenici combined have received nearly $155,000 in campaign contributions from the nuclear energy industry since 1994.

Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski, who also voted in favor of Yucca Mountain, claims that the repository is necessary to ensure the future of the nuclear energy industry by keeping it from "choking on its own waste." However, even Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham admits that Yucca Mountain will not contain all of America's commercial high-level nuclear waste, and, in fact, would reach capacity by 2016, a mere six years after opening.

Activists are pleased that 39 Senators, more than ever before, were opposed to Yucca Mountain, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who said, "We are forced to decide this issue prematurely, without sufficient scientific information, because this administration is doing the bidding of special interests that simply want to make the deadly waste they have generated someone else's problem."

Activists plan to continue the fight against Yucca Mountain. Michael Mariotte, of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C., says that although the Senate has approved Yucca Mountain, the repository will not open without years of courtroom activity, continued Congressional action, and an increased likelihood of large protests and blockades of highways and railways.

DOE Requests WIPP Permit Modifications

The Department of Energy (or DOE) is requesting a large number of changes to the hazardous waste permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) near Carlsbad, including permission to accept remote-handled (or RH) radioactive waste. This waste so dangerous that it must be handled by robotic machines and transported in shielded casks. DOE also proposes to change recordkeeping methods, use new shipping containers for oversized items, and use x-rays to confirm the contents of some of the waste containers, rather than visual examination. But, Richard Knerr, of DOE, claims the changes "certainly [are] not a significant safety hazard." However, Steve Zappe, of the state Environment Department said, "[These are] pretty significant modifications."

There will be a series of public meetings to address the modifications. Please see the CCNS Upcoming Events page for more information.




Back to News Index