Column: Nuclear waste bill an environmental policy disaster
An environmental policy disaster was averted and Nevada scored a major victory when the Senate voted to pass the current nuclear waste bill but enough Senators voted against the bill to prevent an override of President Clinton’s promised veto.
The vote was 64-34, but it takes 67 votes to override the President’s veto. Thankfully, we were able to prevail in the Senate against this irresponsible bill that would set a very dangerous environmental precedent for not only Nevada, but for the entire country. This legislation was yet another misguided attempt to cater to the needs of the special interest nuclear power lobby at the expense of the health and safety of millions of Americans. Furthermore, the strong support of the Clinton Administration as well as the environmental community’s fierce opposition aided us substantially in our efforts.
From the beginning, the fundamental premise of the bill was flawed. It made a mockery of existing environmental protection laws by severely delaying and politicizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) radiation standard setting authority and attempted to allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to have undue influence over the final radiation release standards for Yucca Mountain. Such a move could endanger the lives of millions of people for generations to come.
The nuclear power industry claims that the EPA would establish an unattainable health and safety standard for the site. When the EPA established the final radiation standards for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico it provided a maximum exposure of 15 mremsyear, and included a separate 4mrem groundwater standard. I don’t believe it is unreasonable for Nevadans to expect the same kind of protection that residents of New Mexico already receive.
Unfortunately, for Nevadans, the nuclear power industry does not care a great deal about the justification behind the EPA proposed standard. For the industry and its supporters, the EPA is nothing more than an impediment to their ultimate goal of shipping huge quantities of high level nuclear waste to Nevada no matter what the cost is to the public’s health.
However, more than just Nevadans were at risk by this legislation. The bill would have more than doubled the amount of waste to be transported throughout the country, thus further endangering the 50 million Americans that live within a mile of the transportation routes. These routes would be used for 16,000 shipments of high level nuclear waste through 43 states, creating unprecedented opportunity for disaster. If the nuclear power industry has its way, high level nuclear waste would travel on the nation’s highways and rail lines through small towns and major population centers. The significant safety issues involved in transportation of nuclear waste cannot be emphasized enough. If nuclear waste is to be shipped to Nevada from the eastern most parts of the United States, the potential for accidents is daunting. It is so daunting that there is no way to properly prepare for the resulting disaster and community emergency response teams are simply not prepared to meet this challenge.
I have spent the majority of my career in the U.S. Senate fighting against nuclear waste coming to Nevada and in the end, it is my hope that the efforts of the nuclear power industry and its allies in Congress will prove futile. The nuclear power industry had better realize that Nevada’s Congressional Delegation and the Clinton Administration will never yield to their outrageous and dangerous demands. The current nuclear waste bill is an environmental travesty which stands no chance of being enacted. Unfortunately, the current leadership in Congress has failed to realize the fact that we should
no longer waste valuable legislative time on this irresponsible and special interest legislation.