Locals disagree on nuclear dump
In 1992, the federal government pledged to take control of roughly 40,000 tons of nuclear waste generated by 72 plants in 34 states by Feb. 1, 1998. The government’s failure to keep that promise has put cities and counties with nuclear power plants in an awkward position. Municipal officials now face the difficult task of explaining to their citizens why highly radioactive fuel is still being stored at local nuclear plants after they had been assured it would be removed from their backyards.
A year after its self-imposed deadline, the federal government is focusing all its efforts and money on Yucca Mountain, a barren stretch of desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, to determine if it is the appropriate spot for the nation’s nuclear waste. But even if Yucca Mountain is chosen — a determination is expected by 2001 — nuclear waste would not be shipped there until at least 2010. And a number of issues remain to be resolved about Yucca Mountain’s viability as a permanent site. (Those issues include the possibility of earthquakes and rising hot water within the mountain.) Nevertheless, the Department of Energy is not considering any other locations.
Attempts last year to place the nuclear waste temporarily at the Nevada Test Site near Yucca Mountain stalled in Congress, and a strong showing by anti-interim storage lawmakers in the November elections could jeopardize passage of the legislation this year. President Clinton has vowed to veto any interim waste storage bill and pro-interim dump senators do not appear to have the 67 votes needed to override a Clinton veto. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in December that the federal government does not have to take control of the waste until a safe storage facility can be found.
The federal government’s inaction has angered many local officials including Kay Kuhlman, council administrator for Red Wing, Minn. Red Wing, a town of 15,000, is home to the Northern States Power Prairie Island Plant. Residents of the city and the Prairie Island Indian Reservation want the plant’s waste removed from the area.
“It is stressful and frustrating, the lack of effort we have seen from the federal government,” Kuhlman says. Kuhlman argues for moving the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “It just seems logical to have the [waste] in one single site instead of having it in the backyards of many states throughout the United States,” she says.
Her sentiments are echoed in Seabrook, N.H., a coastal resort town that is home to the north Atlantic Energy Services Seabrook Station. Like Kuhlman, Russ Bailey, Seabrook’s town manager, advocates the Yucca site.
But Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones is adamantly opposed to the government placing the nation’s nuclear dump at her doorstep. “Why don’t they bury the waste where it is generated?” she asks. “Why do they want to move it through other states’ highways on the backs of trucks and bury it in Yucca Mountain?”
Jones contends that Nevada is being targeted because it has a small Congressional delegation — four members — and a small permanent population. She argues that Las Vegas is a major tourist destination and that placing the waste at Yucca Mountain, less than two hours away, would kill the economy. Jones suggests formation of a task force of local officials to investigate the issue and determine the best long-term solution to deal with the nuclear waste.
Whatever happens, nuclear waste may be one of the most controversial issues Congress will face this year. Absent an agreement on how to deal with it, some cities and counties will end up on the short end of the stick.