Nuke Storage Bill on Senate Floor

April 8, 1997

The bill, which critics have called the Mobile Chernobyl Act, would create an interim storage facility the nation’s main nuclear-weapons test site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Under a 1982 law, the Energy Department is required to begin accepting high-level radioactive waste from civilian facilities next year.

Yucca Mountain is at least 18 years away from completion, but already “some of the utilities have filled up their spent fuel pools, and have set up on-site dry cask storage,” says Scott Peters, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.

But Nevada’s senators and others dispute the necessity of moving ahead with the temporary Yucca Mountain facility. Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan have countered Murkowski’s bill with a pair of proposals that would lift the Energy Department’s 1998 deadline for accepting nuclear waste while a presidential commission studies the issue. Bryan and Reid say that utilities that run nuclear power stations are trying to get the public to foot the bill for taking care of the waste and also point to concerns about getting the material to Nevada from all over the country.

“They’re going to come up with as many excuses as possible to transfer their problem onto the taxpayers,” says Susan McCue, Reid’s press secretary. “It’s a terrible, terrible piece of legislation – it’s bad public policy all around. The legislation allows for every major environmental law to be bypassed, and it would call for all the waste to be hauled through hundreds of communities along the way.”

“Obviously, when you move things you have a higher risk of accidents,” charges Nuclear Information and Resource Service executive director Michael Mariotte, who testified against the bill before the Senate Energy Committee. “It looks like it will have to go through as many as 43 states and 50 million Americans would be within one-half mile of the route.”

President Clinton has already promised to veto the bill, which is expected to come to a vote by the end of next week.

“We think that it would be ill advised to move the waste to a politically determined interim site and divert resources from a long-term solution,” says Brian Johnson, spokesman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “We should approach it in an objective way and base our decisions on what the science shows and on the long-term protection of public health.”

But proponents of the bill also couch their arguments in public-health terms. In a statement on the bill, Murkowski said that waste is being “stored in populated areas, near neighborhoods and schools, in the back yards of people across America.”

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