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The Planet

Nation Squabbles Over Nuclear Waste Pile-Up

The Planet, October 1995, Volume 2, number 7

When our curious descendants penetrate caverns on Yucca Mountain, Nev., they won't find walls covered with prehistoric cave art. If current Dept. of Energy (DOE) plans go forward, they will find instead the humped shapes of collapsed storage canisters of spent fuel and high-level nuclear-waste.

But if critics of the proposed Yucca Mountain isolation site for high-level wastes and spent fuel prevail, the area may never endanger anyone with more than rock falls. The DOE plan is under attack from citizens, scientists and members of Congress intent on slashing the budget.

Even the DOE admits the repository would not be big enough for all the waste currently in the inventory, to say nothing of the continuing stream resulting from nuclear power production, dismantling of nuclear weapons, reprocessing of spent fuel and federal facilities clean-up. The question is not merely, "Instead of Yucca Mountain, what?" but "After Yucca Mountain, what?"

Prodded by a nuclear power industry demanding relief from overflowing storage pools, congressional leaders have introduced a slew of legislation related to Yucca Mountain.. Leading the pack are Sen. J. Bennett Johnson (D-La.), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and House Budget Committee Chair Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), whose bills (S.167, S.443 and H.R. 1020, respectively) call for the construction of an interim centralized storage facility with reduced environmental safeguards.

The only related bill supported by the Sierra Club-S. 544, introduced by Nevada Democrat Sen. Richard Bryan-calls for an independent commission to review national nuclear waste policies and produce a report within two years.

"Nuclear waste will pose a danger to all living things for millions of years," said Sierra Club Nuclear Waste Task Force member Dr. Judy Johnsrud. "The problem we face is how to isolate it permanently-and so far there is no evidence that Yucca Mountain will do so."

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