Nuclear waste sites to stay after project's end

The U.S. Energy Department's decision to terminate Yucca Mountain will leave Georgia and South Carolina with their own permanent nuclear waste repositories, the project's former licensing manager told Augusta area stakeholders Wednesday.


"It means it is likely to stay here forever," said Joe Zeigler, who now works for Nye County, Nev., near the site of what was supposed to become the nation's permanent underground repository for spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste.

During a roundtable discussion organized by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Zeigler said the government's abrupt cancellation of the project was based on politics, and not science.

"A better opportunity than Yucca Mountain is unlikely," he said.

In 2002, Congress approved Yucca Mountain as the site of a national nuclear waste repository to be financed by companies and utilities that operated nuclear power programs.

More than $33 billion has been collected, of which $10 billion has been spent on Yucca Mountain.

Broun, who heads the House science and technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight, touted a new report released Wednesday as further evidence that halting the project was an inappropriate decision based solely on politics.

The report, he said, found that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko has not been forthright in his dealings with the public, or with members of Congress.

Jaczko is a former aide to Senate Majority Leader (and Yucca Mountain opponent) Harry Reid, of Nevada, Broun said, and failed to operate with the transparency, objectivity and attention to science his agency is obligated to consider.

"It has been exceedingly difficult to get details from the administration," Broun said during the panel discussion, held at Augusta State University.

The 39-page report, titled Yucca Mountain: the Adminis-tration's Impact on U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy , also found that of 1,500 comments on the suitability of Yucca Mountain for its designated purpose, only 20 were "not positive," Broun said. Those comments were simple recommendations to improve safety.

Among the report's findings were that Jaczko "inconsistently and arbitrarily substituted his own judgment on key policy decisions more appropriately considered and decided before the full commission."

In doing so, the report said, "he manipulated process to achieve his desired end: closure of the high-level waste program."

Broun said Jaczko should resign, echoing a similar statement last week by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, of Idaho.

South Carolina and Georgia already rank among the nation's top 10 states in the amount of spent nuclear fuel stored at commercial power reactors, such as Plant Vogtle, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies.

The spectre of all that material remaining in this area, with no clear disposition path, is a cause of concern and could undermine confidence in the future of nuclear power -- and in the federal government, said David Jameson, the president of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, a five-county economic development consortium.

"The federal government has reneged on its promise to provide a permanent solution for nuclear waste," he said. "DOE's decision turns SRS and other sites into permanent nuclear waste storage sites."

Also participating in the discussion were Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and representatives from Georgia Power, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and the Augusta Metro, North Augusta, Columbia County and Aiken chambers of commerce.