U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina introduced the Sensible Nuclear Waste Disposition Act earlier this year. This legislation mandates that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission make a licensing decision on Yucca Mountain before the U.S. Department of Energy can consider other long-term nuclear waste disposal options.
Clearly, now is the time to fund the completion of the Yucca Mountain review process and let the science dictate the future of the site.
Yucca Mountain was selected in 1987 in accordance with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as our country’s permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste.
Thirty years and $15 billion in taxpayer investments later, it’s time to fairly assess the viability of this facility on safety, security and economic bases. Further, more than $30 billion has been contributed by utility ratepayers into the Nuclear Waste Fund. By law, these funds can only be used for the licensing, construction and operation of Yucca Mountain.
While public safety is a concern, according to a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee report, Yucca Mountain is the “most studied real estate on the planet.” Its physical attributes make it a suitable location for nuclear waste disposal: remote, dry and geologically stable. And the facility itself is designed to limit radiological exposure for 1 million years.
Opponents of Yucca Mountain claim that the projected 100,000 shipments to the site will lead to accidents on the road. Yet the nuclear industry and the DOE have a flawless record with shipping spent fuel, high-level waste and transuranic waste.
Additionally, casks designed to ship spent fuel must be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. To be certified, the casks undergo rigorous testing and analyses to demonstrate the ability to withstand postulated accident scenarios including impacts, fire and water submersion.
Completion of this facility will benefit the citizens of the CSRA. Used nuclear fuel is currently being stored at Plant Vogtle and spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste is stored at the Savannah River Site on an interim basis pending completion of a deep geologic repository. But since the Yucca Mountain project was canceled, we’re faced with the possibility of “interim” storage turning into “permanent” disposal.
In a recent Washington Times op-ed, Rep. Wilson wrote, “While the technology is constantly improving to prolong storage capabilities, the fact remains that the only safe way to store the material long-term is in a geological repository – something uniquely available at the Yucca Mountain facility. It is imperative that we make progress on a permanent disposal option.”
Yucca Mountain may be the right choice for high-level nuclear waste disposal for sound scientific, safety, security and fiscal reasons. It’s time to complete the assessment and let the science decide!
The writer is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, based in Aiken, S.C.