Update 6/26/17: Legislation to restart the Yucca Mtn dump licensing process is moving forward in the House. Voice your opposition!
The common language in our struggles is understanding each link in the nuclear chain.
—Ian Zabarte, Western Shoshone
Summer Quarterly 2017
By Kelly Lundeen
If you thought the proposal to store highly radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was dead, check out the new lineup in Washington, DC. With powerful opponents Senator Harry Reid and former President Obama out of the political picture, some Republicans are attempting to revive the licensing process for the waste repository. Trump’s budget proposal requested $120 million for the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has requested $30 million, so the agencies can reopon the licensing process. A Yucca dump would target Western Shoshone lands with the nation’s 70,000-plus tons of waste reactor fuel which would come in from over 70 locations. The nuclear industry responsible for creating the radioactive waste is promoting Yucca and other centralized dumpsites in order to transfer liability to the public from the facilities where it is currently being generated and stored.
Opposition to the Waste Repository Continues
Luckily, the movement of Native American and anti- nuclear organizations that stopped the licensing process in 2010 remembers all of the reasons it has always been a bad idea: as a matter of Native sovereignty, science, environment, economy and politics. Considering the site under US federal ownership is a violation of the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, and Yucca Mountain is held sacred by the Western Shoshone. It is located on the third most seismic region on the continent, near seven cinder cone volcanoes, 26 fault lines and contains a moving water table that would corrode canisters, making it geologically unstable and unsuitable. Transportation by road, rail and barge would expose 100 million people (about a third of the country’s population) living along these routes in the case of an accident. Any accident at the site, 90 miles from Las Vegas, or along the route as it passes through “the Strip,” would devastate the local tourism industry which brought 43 million visitors in 2016. In sum, 299 legal contentions to the application as it stood in 2010 would still require adjudication, resulting in over 400 days of hearings.
Opponents to the dump have maintained their network, knowledge and strength. Since the November election, the Native Community Action Council, the only party to the licensing process that is not federally funded, has hosted a forum to defend Yucca Mountain. The National Grassroots Radioactive Waste Summit created a Yucca Working Group that gathered 80 organizational signatures on a letter to Congress objecting to any licensing of the abandoned site. All but one member of Nevada’s congressional delegation and majority of Nevadans are opposed to the dump. Lawmakers have introduced legislation requiring informed consent from local tribes and governments prior to licensing. The bill would codify the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendation that consent-based siting be agreed before money from the federal Nuclear Waste Fund could be dispersed.
Some proponents of the site are undeterred and insist on following through with the portions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) that made Yucca Mountain the destination for the nation’s high level radioactive waste. Dozens of disqualifying road- blocks have to be ignored to restart the process. Draft legislation to renew licensing proceedings, by amending the NWPA, has been heard in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A few local politicians are driven by hopes of economic gain in return for accepting the waste. Commissioner Dan Schinhofen of Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located, reportedly said, “… say give us $50 million up front, and give us $10 million a year.”
If funds for licensing are given Congressional approval, get ready for years if not decades of litigation and direct action.
Elsewhere on the Radioactive Waste Front
Ten million of the $120 million requested for the DOE by Trump is for so-called “interim storage” in anticipation of long delays in licensing a dump at Yucca Mt. Two applications for such “interim” sites in controversial desert areas of Texas and New Mexico have been submitted to the NRC. Neither of the sites has undergone a consent-based siting or environmental impact process.
Waste Control Specialists, Inc. (WSC) has applied to accept more high-level waste at its site in Andrews County, Texas, but in April the firm suspended its application while in the process of being purchased by Energy Solutions, Inc. WCS has admitted to facing “enormous financial challenges.” Additionally, the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance and Holtec, Inc. applied in March to host 120,000 tons of high-level waste reactor in southeast New Mexico.
Meanwhile the DOE’s Deep Borehole Field Test proposal has been completely scrapped. The DOE had sought approval to test the feasibility of storing radioactive waste in boreholes three miles deep at sites in Texas, New Mexico and South Dakota, but confronted strong opposition from local communities. Although as an alternative waste site it has been suggested the newly discovered sinkhole in front of Mr. Trump’s luxury resort at Mar-a-Lago. After contractors faced resistance in every meeting with area residents in four potential locations, the agency announced, “Due to changes in budget priorities, the Department of Energy does not intend to continue supporting the Deep Borehole Field Test project.”
For updates on opposing bad radioactive waste storage and transport plans, follow the “Don’t Waste America” campaign of Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
—Dakota Free Press, May 24, 2017; Department of Energy, May 23, 2017; Las Vegas Sun, May 22, 2017; Indigenous Action Media, April 27, 2017; Nuclear Information and Resource Service, April, 2017; Native Community Action Council, 2017