Reid Statement on Hearing about Environmental Impacts of Yucca Project

Washington, DC— U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada expressed his concerns in a written statement about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump as the Department of Energy (DOE) prepares to hold a hearing today about the environmental impacts of building a rail line to Yucca Mountain and constructing the proposed repository.

Calling the Department’s Environmental Impact Statements “premature, wholly inadequate, and based on flawed assumptions,” Reid urged DOE to fully review the public comments it receives regarding these reports, which are intended to consider alternatives to the project and why the project could harm the environment and public health.

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

STATEMENT OF SENATOR HARRY REID

on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements for a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain and Nevada Transportation Corridor and Rail Alignment

December 3, 2007

           I appreciate the opportunity to comment before my fellow Nevadans and the Department of Energy on the Draft Repository and Transportation Supplemental EISs. The DOE is in its third decade of trying to show that Yucca Mountain is a suitable site to permanently store nuclear waste. It is telling that they keep generating thousands of pages of data and documents, yet Nevadans and more and more Americans look at this project with skepticism and fear. I have spent my entire career in the U.S. Senate opposing a nuclear waste repository in Nevada – and like past environmental documents that DOE has published, I see nothing in these NEPA documents suggesting that DOE made the right decision by choosing Yucca as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. 

           The National Environmental Policy Act is designed to disclose the environmental impacts of major federal projects so that the public may have a chance to review and comment on them. The purpose of NEPA is to ensure that federal agencies actually take into account potential environmental consequences of projects like the proposed nuclear waste dump before making a decision to go forward. However, it is common knowledge that the Department of Energy has already decided that it wants to build a repository in Nevada, despite the fact that the NEPA process is not over. This is precisely the situation that NEPA and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act intended to avoid.

           Both NEPA and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act envisioned that the Department would complete research and have sufficient information available before determining that a site is suitable for storing one of the most dangerous substances known to man. Because our federal government made the terrible mistake of ignoring a well-thought-out process of completing research and designs before choosing a repository site, we are all here today commenting on an EIS that is premature, wholly inadequate, and based on flawed assumptions. 

           It is clear that DOE is attempting to move forward with repository construction: the Department has given us a date – June 30, 2008 – that it will submit its license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. DOE has no intention of taking into account comments from the public that could prevent it from meeting this arbitrary self-imposed deadline. I am hopeful that DOE will make every effort to review each comment submitted regarding the Draft SEISs and provide an explanation of how they considered each suggestion or concern.

           As the Department noted in its Repository SEIS summary, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as amended directs the NRC to adopt the Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) “to the extent practicable,” with “no further consideration” required. This being the case, if the Department’s Final and Supplemental EISs are based on incomplete information and flawed assumptions, this means that the NRC could adopt this skewed analysis when deciding whether or not to authorize construction of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

           I have four major concerns with the Repository SEIS:

(1)

The DOE has made numerous conclusions in its SEIS based on incomplete design information, despite the fact that Yucca Mountain is a one-of-a-kind project.  DOE acknowledges that repository designs could be less than 40 percent complete when it submits its application to NRC. I am also deeply concerned that DOE is making assumptions that are convenient for securing a license, but are not actually feasible in constructing a repository. One such example is the reliance on titanium drip shields in the Department’s modeling data, despite the fact that DOE knows that it cannot install them for 100 to 300 years after beginning waste disposal.  

(2)

The assumption that DOE will place 90 percent of all spent nuclear fuel in Transportation Aging and Disposal (TAD) canisters lacks foundation, and DOE simply cannot show that nuclear utilities will have the will or resources to do so. The TAD canister system is only a concept on paper. It faces serious practical barriers, because it would require many utilities to remove spent fuel from secure dry casks in order to put the waste into the TAD canisters. The TAD concept is even more problematic, considering that 25 reactor sites lack rail access, requiring waste to be moved by barge or truck. Taking nuclear waste that is safely stored at reactor sites with extremely high security and putting it in unproven canisters to be shipped across our country in trucks, and on barges and trains is simply a backwards approach;

(3)

There are significant discrepancies between estimated mean annual radiation dose exposure between the FEIS and the Draft SEIS – DOE admits that this is a result of modeling differences, and not necessarily a result of improved designs. Thus, the Department effectively admits that it can simply change its assumptions to make the repository look environmentally sound; 

(4)

Despite the fact that the Department can change its assumptions in order to manipulate radiation dose data, they continue to refuse to make the Total System Performance Assessment (TSPA) model accessible to stakeholders like the State of Nevada or NRC to verify DOE’s calculations. How can the DOE possibly expect the NRC to adopt the Yucca Mountain EISs if the model used to draft them is kept secret? 

           With regard to the Draft Transportation SEIS, it is troubling that DOE’s analysis fails to adequately consider the impacts that the Caliente Rail Corridor – the Department’s preferred route – would have on Nevadans. Specifically, DOE has not fully considered land use conflicts with ranching, mining, and recreation in Nevada, and I am concerned that the SEIS ignores the environmental impacts that the Caliente rail corridor would have on communities along existing rail lines through Las Vegas. 

           The Caliente route would not only send nuclear waste through downtown Las Vegas – the nation’s fastest growing city with a tourism-based economy; it would also severely impact rural communities, disrupt livestock operations and grazing lands, utilize scarce water resources, and cross private residential, industrial and commercial land with the rail line. While I am confident that nuclear waste will never be stored at Yucca Mountain, I am concerned that the Department will try to begin construction of a rail line before the site is even approved for construction. The economic impacts on the affected communities must be thoroughly considered before the Department decides to break ground on the Caliente corridor. 

           I appreciate the chance to voice these concerns, and plan to submit additional comments on each of the Draft SEISs in writing to the Department. Again, I urge DOE to fully review the public comments it receives regarding the Transportation and Rail SEISs, and provide the consideration that each comment is due considering the magnitude and long-term impacts of the Yucca Mountain Project.