Lawmakers told Yucca project on its last legs
February 22, 2014
Claims that the Yucca Mountain dump would bring billions of dollars to Nevada are false, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan told the Legislative Committee on High Level Nuclear Waste on Friday.
Bryan was responding to claims to the contrary by attendees at the newly created legislative panel's initial meeting.
Experts told the panel that the project is just about dead because there's no money in the budget to continue licensing and construction.
Over the years, nuclear power companies paid billions into a trust fund that was intended to manage the so-called repository in perpetuity once it opened. It was never designed to be a windfall to the state.
Besides, Bryan said, the money isn't there.
"It's what I refer to as the pot of gold at the end of the nuclear rainbow," he said. "There is no money in the nuclear waste fund."
Bryan said Congress has used all that money over the years to offset the national budget deficits.
He also denied that Nevada's battle to block the dump is in any way partisan.
Bryan said the three potential nuclear waste dump sites were arbitrarily narrowed by Congress to just Yucca Mountain in a purely political move that state officials have long dubbed the "screw Nevada bill."
"Those were political acts — no scientific evaluation, just politics," he said.
He said that through five governors — two Democrats, including himself, and three Republicans — Nevadans of both parties have steadfastly opposed the dump because "we're not convinced it's safe."
He added that science since the waste dump legislation was passed in the mid-1980s has shown that concern to be correct, that the mountain isn't a safe place to store high-level nuclear waste.
Bryan was followed by Nigel Mote of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, who told the panel that even if Yucca Mountain were approved, there's no way to transport the more than 65,000 tons of spent fuel from the nuclear power plants where it is now stored to the dump.
He was joined by Joe Strolin, longtime Nuclear Projects Office official and recognized expert on the project, who said simply, "Even if we opened the repository, there's no way to get the waste there."
Mote said much of that waste is in casks that are too big and heavy to move with current transport systems. He said many of them, weighing up to 120 tons each, were never designed to be moved.
Mote added that equipment to safely lower those casks into the repository doesn't exist.
To move the waste, he said, it would have to be reprocessed and packaged into much smaller containers — an estimated 80,000 of them at a cost of untold millions. Transporting them would create thousands of truck trips to move the waste across country to Nevada, exposing cities nationwide to potential radioactive spills.
Nevada officials say that despite a court order to resume the licensing process, the Yucca Mountain project is on its last legs because President Obama has defunded the Department of Energy budget to license and finish constructing the dump. It will simply run out of money soon.