Senate Democrats

Statement of Senator Harry Reid About Yucca Mountain Oversight Hearing

Washington, DCSenator Harry Reid delivered the following remarks while testifying at today’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing about the Yucca Mountain Project.

Remarks by U.S. Senator Harry Reid
March 1, 2006

“I am convinced the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump will never be built because the project is mired in scientific, safety and technical problems.

“In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which called for disposal of nuclear waste in a deep geological repository that would remain stable for thousands of years. The Act directed the Department of Energy to pick the most suitable site based on natural, geologic features.

“In 1987, Congress instead opted for political expediency and limited DOE’s studies to Yucca Mountain, despite the fact that the criteria in the Act would disqualify the Yucca Mountain site.

“DOE has been studying Yucca for 20 years now, and the studies are still incomplete.

“Transportation of nuclear waste from around the country to Yucca poses hazards to public health, economic and national security, and environmental safety – hazards from accidents or terrorist attacks. DOE has not addressed those hazards.

“Moving 77,000 tons of waste to Yucca would involve about 53,000 truck shipments or 10,000 rail shipments over 24 years. The waste would travel through counties housing 250 million people — including population centers like Chicago, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas.

“Before his election, President Bush wrote, — quote — “I believe sound science, not politics, must prevail in the designation of any high-level nuclear waste repository. As President, I would not sign legislation what would send nuclear waste to any proposed site unless it’s been deemed scientifically safe.”

“Now President Bush is breaking that promise. He’s letting politics and unsound science prevail at Yucca Mountain.

“A few of the scientific problems that we have seen the last year and a half include:

“In 2004, the Court threw out the Environmental Protection Agency’s first radiation protection standards for Yucca because they were not strong enough to protect the public from radiation exposure and failed to follow the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences.

“In 2005, the EPA published its revised standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste dump, which are wholly inadequate, do not meet the law’s requirements and do not protect public health and safety. In fact, EPA is proposing the least protective public health radiation standard in the world.

“Numerous scientific and quality assurance problems with transportation plans, corrosion of casks, and the effectiveness of materials have caused DOE to suspend work on the surface facilities, and have caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a stop-work order on nuclear containers.

“DOE revealed that documents and models about water infiltration at Yucca Mountain had been falsified. The DOE Inspector General reports that DOE continues to ignore falsifications of technical and scientific data.

“In numerous media reports, the administration has confirmed that it is preparing a legislative package that will remove health, safety and legal requirements for Yucca Mountain — a clear admission that the project is a complete public health, safety and scientific failure.

“It should be clear to everyone that the proposed Yucca Mountain project is not going anywhere.

“It is time to look at alternatives so we can safely story nuclear waste. Fortunately, the technology for a viable, safe and secure alternative is readily available and can be fully implemented within a decade if we act now. That technology is on-site dry cask storage.

“Dry casks are being safely used at 34 sites throughout the country right now. The Nuclear Energy Institute projects 83 of the 103 active reactors will have dry storage by 2050.

“Senator John Ensign and I have a bill that would safely store nuclear waste while we look for a scientifically-based solution. That bill is the Spent Fuel On-Site Storage and Security Act of 2006. (S. 2099.) Our bill requires commercial nuclear utilities to secure waste in licensed, on-site dry cask storage facilities.

“There is absolutely no justification for endangering the public by rushing headlong towards a repository that is fraught with scientific, technical and geological problems. Our bill guarantees all Americans that our nation’s nuclear waste will be stored in the safest way possible.

“It is time we addressed the problem at hand – the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel – and stopped pouring taxpayers’ money down the drain on a project that could endanger all of our citizens.

“The Yucca Mountain project is a failure. I have fought against Yucca Mountain for decades, and I will continue to fight it.”