September 24, 2008
Washington, DC—Nevada Senator Harry Reid delivered the following statement today at a hearing before the Commerce Committee regarding the safety and security dangers associated with the proposal to ship 77,000 tons of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. Both Reid and fellow Nevada Senator John Ensign spoke about the Department of Energy's unpreparedness to begin a massive nuclear waste shipping campaign. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"I want to thank Chairman Inouye, Senator Hutchison, and the members of the Committee for scheduling this important hearing. It has been a long time since the Senate has looked closely at plans to ship nuclear waste to Nevada.
"This is a very busy week. But this hearing is necessary now because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just docketed the Department of Energy's application to begin construction at Yucca Mountain.
"Like its application, the Department of Energy's nuclear waste shipping plans are grossly incomplete. Yet the Department really wants to spend over $3 billion to start building a 300 mile radioactive railway through Nevada. They want to do this before they even have permission to build the dump.
"It amazes me how long the Department of Energy has pushed the Yucca project without having a real transportation plan in place. The Department has not made public its proposed shipping routes, and they still haven't finalized their National Transportation Plan. Their draft transportation plan is barely a crude sketch of the comprehensive planning that should actually be done for a massive nuclear waste shipping campaign.
"Equally shocking is that the Transportation Aging and Disposal casks the Department of Energy plans to use have not even been designed yet. The Department says that 90% of nuclear waste will be shipped using these transportation-storage canisters, but they have absolutely no reason to believe that this is true. There is no guarantee that nuclear utilities are actually willing to pay for these canisters, especially those that already use dry cask storage to securely store their waste.
"Yet these untested, yet-to-be designed canisters are part of the foundation of the Yucca plan. They're the key defense against a transportation disaster, and they're one of the Department of Energy's primary barriers against radioactive leakage from the nuclear waste dump. But that's not important to the Department now, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has made the unexplainable decision that the Department of Energy's license application for Yucca was complete.
"In order to get all of the nation's nuclear waste to Yucca, the Energy Department is proposing between 3,000 and 11,000 rail shipments, and as many as 10,000 truck shipments through Nevada. Twice a week for the next 24 years, trains loaded with the most dangerous substance known to man would traverse the country to Nevada.
"Some of these shipments would go right by the Las Vegas Strip. Radioactive trains would pass within one-half mile of 95,000 residents and 34 hotels that employ and host 40,000 workers and visitors. Texas could host up to 300 nuclear waste shipments. All of these shipments will go through Arizona communities too, collecting even more waste at the Palo Verde nuclear plant.
"The Department of Energy and nuclear industry lobbyists will tell you that the risk of an accident is low.
"What they don't tell you is that risk is relative – 99% success gets us 5,000 botched surgeries each week. 99% gets us 200,000 wrong drug prescriptions each year. 99% gets us 20,000 lost pieces of mail each hour. My point is simple – more nuclear waste on the road will involve more accidents that will put the lives of millions of Americans at risk. I don't want to see what 99% gets us when nuclear waste is involved.
"What I fear most is that the Department of Energy is not going for 100% success. They are not even trying to eliminate all the risk. One of the most glaring examples is their refusal to consider shipping the oldest, less radioactive nuclear waste first – a very basic measure that could reduce radiological hazards by 85% or more.
"I urge the members of the committee to ask the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Academy of Sciences about this issue. Both the Academy and the Government Accountability Office have told the Energy Department they should ship older nuclear waste first. The State of Nevada – which understands the terrible risks – has urged the Department to consider shipping the oldest waste first.
"But the Department of Energy made up its mind. The answer was no.
"No, because the nuclear power industry wants to get rid of its more expensive and most radioactive waste first.
"My question is why hasn't the Department of Energy even considered shipping the oldest waste first? They don't mention it in their environmental analyses for transporting waste to Yucca and they don't consider it in their draft National Transportation Plan.
"It's unfortunate that the Energy Department once again is refusing to let logic get in the way of building its nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
"We all know that nuclear waste cannot be stored at nuclear reactors for eternity. But it can be safely stored for a very long time in secure dry storage casks. If allowing nuclear waste to cool for 50 to 100 years improves the safety of shipping it in the future, the Department of Energy should be seriously considering on-site dry cask storage.
"Storing waste at nuclear reactors, not in the earthquake-prone Yucca Mountain, would give us the time needed to develop secure, scientifically sound long-term solutions for nuclear waste. Senator Ensign and I have been saying this all along.
"Yucca's price tag is now $96 billion, almost $49 billion MORE than the Department of Energy's 2001 estimate. As the cost of Yucca increases at a rate of $7 billion a year, the annual payments to the Nuclear Waste Fund are only a fraction of how much Yucca's cost is increasing. The $22 billion Nuclear Waste Fund will never come close to covering the price of Yucca.
"The terrible risks of transporting nuclear waste is yet another reason that we need to stop the government from hemorrhaging any more money on this failed project. It's time to keep Americans safe by keeping nuclear waste where it is.
"Again, thank you Mr. Chairman, Senator Hutchison and members of the Committee for this opportunity."
RenoBruce R. Thompson
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