A deadly proposition

A deadly proposition

Future Nevadans at risk of getting cancer if Yucca Mountain becomes nuclear waste dump

Mon, Oct 6, 2008 (2:09 a.m.)

The Bush administration believes there is nothing wrong with building a nuclear waste dump that could cause at least one of every 125 individuals who live nearby to contract cancer. But if you happen to be one of those residents, chances are you won’t be feeling good about the odds of getting that potentially fatal disease.

Unfortunately, those will be the odds of getting cancer for future residents who live in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain should that site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas be turned into a dump for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.

As reported by Lisa Mascaro on Thursday in the Las Vegas Sun, those are the odds that can be gleaned from the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest cancer risk standards for the proposed dump.

It is of little comfort to note that the cancer risk is expected to be lower during the first 10,000 years of the dump’s existence because the risk would still be higher than if the dump didn’t exist.

Remember, too, that the cancer risk is in addition to the potential for catastrophic loss of life throughout the United States because of an accidental release of radioactive waste or a terrorist attack during transport to the dump. Let’s not forget the potential additional hazards for Nevadans should an accident caused by man or nature occur at the dump.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a friend of Nevada’s in its fight against the dump, said the Bush administration’s release of the new cancer risk standards “only reinforces how their entire approach to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project has put politics and the financial health of the nuclear industry ahead of science and the health of the public.”

For the federal government to impose any involuntary cancer risk at all on Nevada, no matter how small, is ridiculous and is one of many reasons why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should immediately dismiss the Department of Energy’s application to build the dump.



No nuclear waste dump in the NT

Highlights from the recent rally in Tennant Creek, opposing the plan for a federal radioactive waste dump in the NT.

Protesters march over proposed NT nuclear waste dump

Protesters march over proposed NT nuclear waste dump

Posted Thu Sep 4, 2008 4:50pm AEST

An estimated 100 people have marched in Tennant Creek this morning in protest at the proposal to place a nuclear waste facility at a site north of the town.

Traditional owners from Muckaty Station, which negotiated with the former federal government to place the facility there, were at the protest and say they never supported the proposal.

The new Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, has not said whether his Government plans to use the site.

Muckaty Land Trust traditional owner Diane Stokes says the issue is causing conflict in her community.

“It’s creating real terrible feelings towards us anyway,” she said.

“We’re not happy, we’re feeling that we’re not going to get nowhere.

“We’re going to have this big junk of rubbish in our country and it’s not good.”


Energy platforms could sway state’s voters

Energy platforms could sway state’s voters

Visions of a nuclear waste dump 90 miles from Las Vegas and a solar revolution play out in election

Sun, Aug 10, 2008 (2 a.m.)

— The wide open Southern Nevada desert has always been home to such hope and heartache. Dreamers have been coming here for generations to build something out of nothing, mining the gold deep in its rocks, testing bombs in the name of national defense, entertaining the world on its glittery, gambling Strip.

With every development comes a legacy, etching itself into the narrative of a place. Gold mining booms come and go. Test site workers protect a nation, but expose themselves to sickness. Casinos gamble on a dream, and win a fortune.

Now, once again, choices will be made in the desert. This summer, as high gas prices dominate the national political debate, the desert has emerged as an important road to the White House.

Nevada holds the answers to some of the larger questions being asked of the nation about the country’s future energy policy.

Will the state store the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, as has been planned for decades and, perhaps, foster a local boom for related industries, as supporters envision?

Or will the land play host to a green rush — a new generation of engineers and entrepreneurs who want to blanket the landscape with solar panels to power the cities in ways we’ve only imagined?

Nevada is a swing state this presidential election year and is showing itself among the most politically unpredictable in the nation. The state’s shifting demographics and a fiercely independent streak make projecting Nevada’s presidential choice virtually impossible.

Both presidential candidates support nuclear energy as well as renewable energy development, but in discussing their energy policies last week, they offered stark reminders that they have different ideas for what will become of this land.

Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, supports Yucca Mountain, the nation’s proposed waste dump 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

The presumed Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, does not.

McCain called out that difference during a speech urging construction of as many as 45 new nuclear plants, telling the crowd, according to reports, that his opponent “says no to nuclear storage and no to nuclear processing. I could not disagree more.”

Obama later the same day widened the divide during an interview with the Sun’s Jon Ralston on Channel 8.

“John McCain is in favor of Yucca Mountain,” Obama said. “I’m opposed to it.”

Yucca Mountain is at a critical juncture after decades in development. The storage site once envisioned by Washington as a solution to the nuclear waste problem is now 20 years behind schedule. A report last week put total construction and operating costs at $96.2 billion, substantially higher than previous estimates.

Federal regulators are expected to decide by Labor Day whether to advance the government’s application for the dump to the next stage. Many believe they will.

Obama has vowed to halt that process if elected. McCain would continue development.

Yucca’s opponents, including Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, often say the project is dead. But it is the upcoming presidential election, perhaps more than any other expected action, that will determine its future.

Nevadans overwhelmingly oppose Yucca Mountain, yet it remains low among their political priorities. Could that change in a year when the election could determine the fate — finally — of Yucca?

Could a hot summer of record energy prices, and the worries about a cold winter ahead, be enough to soften attitudes toward Yucca? Could the threat of climate change made worse by coal-fired power plants play a role? Nuclear power is carbon-free. Is that enough to overtake worries about the waste dump?

Many people have come to this desert with an idea for a future. Now voters might well play a central role in the presidential election — and in deciding what comes next for Yucca.

Las Vegas Sun

Estimated cost of nuclear waste dump: $96.2 billion

Photo by Gary Thompson.

Projections for Yucca revised

Estimated cost of nuclear waste dump: $96.2 billion

WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy on Tuesday issued new cost estimates for a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository that would be bigger, would operate longer and would cost billions of dollars more than earlier planned.

The department in a long-awaited report announced the price tag on the proposed Nevada waste site has grown to an estimated $96.2 billion. Counting inflation, costs increased by 67 percent over DOE’s previous estimate, which was $57.5 billion in 2001.

In the intervening years, the project has been delayed and redesigned. DOE officials also made a key assumption that the repository will be expanded by Congress to make room for larger volumes of spent nuclear fuel being generated by commercial power plants.

Lawmakers in 1982 set a 70,000 metric ton capacity limit for the repository. The Yucca Mountain project director said Tuesday the newest cost figures reflect a repository that would hold 122,100 metric tons of high level waste from the U.S. military and operating nuclear power plants, including 47 that have been granted license extensions to run another 20 years.

“This is our current estimate of what the whole repository program is going to cost — how much to build it, operate it and close it down,” said Ward Sproat, director of DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Sproat said $96 billion “is a lot of money, but compared to what? I would argue strongly the cost of doing nothing is a lot higher.”

About $16 billion of the new cost estimate stems from inflation since 2001, Sproat said. Other cost hikes are because of larger amounts of waste to be stored and to refinements in repository designs, he said.

While costs have grown, so has the amount of nuclear waste needing to be disposed, Sproat said. When broken down into a unit price, the cost per fuel bundle has grown only 10 percent, he maintained.

The “total system life cycle” cost purports to include everything associated with the Yucca project for a 150-year period since it was initiated in 1983 to when DOE says it would be decommissioned, the year now set for 2133.

The new cost figures make room for 26 percent more nuclear waste for disposal than previously estimated, according to DOE’s report. By extension, DOE would run nuclear waste trains to the Yucca site for an additional 16 years, and insert nuclear waste canisters into Yucca Mountain for an additional 25 years.

If more reactors are built as part of the touted “nuclear renaissance,” the government could be faced with further expansion at Yucca or the need to build a second repository.

The report is likely to provoke debate in Congress, and concern over dollars. The DOE costs are based on a best-case scenario that envisions the repository largely being constructed and receiving waste by 2017, a schedule that even department officials have said is unlikely.

The new cost estimate also underscores the Yucca program’s financial shakiness. It assumes Congress will appropriate more than $1 billion a year for construction when lawmakers have not allocated more than half that amount in most recent years.

It also figures Congress will enact “fix Yucca” legislation to remove a number of regulatory obstacles, but lawmakers have shown little interest in that so far. It also assumes no delays from licensing protests and lawsuits, which would come as a surprise to attorneys for the state of Nevada who are said to be preparing stacks of challenges.

Sproat said more delays mean more costs. The Energy Department did not run specific calculations of where the project might end up cost-wise under less favorable scenarios.

The DOE also did not calculate the cost of leaving waste stored at power plants for any extended period, an option that Nevada lawmakers and some environmental advocates have urged the government to consider.

The Energy Department in June reached a key milestone when it sent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a 17-volume application to build a Yucca repository. The NRC is conducting a preliminary review to determine whether the application warrants being docketed for an intensive 3- to 4-year licensing process.

Bob Loux, who spearheads Nevada’s official opposition to the Yucca project as director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the Yucca cost report is of limited value.

“What’s the point of this?” Loux asked.

Loux said the DOE did not make it possible to get a clear picture of how much it would cost to build a repository limited to 70,000 metric tons of waste, which is current law.

“Secondly I think most people would take the DOE number for construction and throw in another half,” said Loux, who said the cost for the Yucca site could end up closer to $120 billion to $150 billion.