Yucca rail hearing scheduled in Las Vegas


Yucca rail hearing scheduled in Las Vegas

The federal railroad board has set a Dec. 4 field hearing in Las Vegas to hear public reaction to the Department of Energy’s application to build a 300-mile railway across rural Nevada to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site.The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing facility, 3250 Pepper Lane.

The Surface Transportation Board is considering DOE’s bid to construct a rail line from Caliente to Yucca Mountain, where the department plans to build an industrial complex and a warren of tunnels to store more than 77,000 tons of highly radioactive material.

Speakers are required to register in advance. Go to www.stb.dot.gov for information on how to sign up.



Yucca isn’t the only difference

Yucca isn’t the only difference

On some energy issues, distinctions between presidential hopefuls are matters of degree


Steve Marcus / FILE

Republican presidential candidate John McCain speaks on energy policy during a June campaign visit to UNLV. McCain, like his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, supports a cap and trade system for regulating carbon emissions, but would set the eventual cap higher than Obama.

Sun, Oct 26, 2008 (2 a.m.)

Sun Topics

Before all the talk turned to the economic crisis, the energy crisis had our attention.

Remember rising electricity prices, global warming, stranded polar bears?

Here’s a breakdown of the presidential contenders’ energy policies, and how they might affect the environment and Nevadans’ wallets.

Nuclear power

The main thrust of John McCain’s energy policy is a call for 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

Although the plants produce no carbon emissions, making them an attractive power source in a carbon-constrained world, there are serious environmental and safety concerns with uranium mining and disposal of nuclear waste.

Barack Obama has said there must be solutions to the waste storage and safety problems before he would support new nuclear power plants.

Nevada is unlikely to see a nuclear plant built within its borders even if McCain is elected because the plants require large amounts of water. Still, local environmentalists are concerned that more nuclear plants mean more radioactive waste, which could wind up dumped at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

McCain supports the Yucca project; Obama has said he would kill plans for a repository there.

There are also concerns about the cost of nuclear plants, which would receive billions in federal subsidies under McCain’s plan.

“The real concern with nuclear power is it’s so expensive,” said Lydia Ball, a local representative of the Sierra Club.

Coal-fired power

Both candidates advocate researching how to capture the carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, because experts say coal will continue to provide a significant amount of the nation’s electricity. Fifty percent of America’s electric power comes from coal.

There are three coal-fired power plants in various stages of the approval process in Nevada, but environmentalists shouldn’t expect the next president to step in to stop those plants, according to William Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

“They’re going to wait and see. New coal plants have been on the decline in the last year or so — not because of any federal action, but because of the price of coal, how (plants) will be affected by carbon pricing, by lawsuits, by states’ refusal to issue permits,” Becker said.

Still, it’s the federal legislation putting a price tag on carbon emissions, which both candidates support, that would have the greatest effect on the price of energy from new coal plants and be most likely to stall plans for more.

Renewable energy

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NUCLEAR WASTE SITE: EPA sets Yucca radiation standards

DOE must prove system can meet safety requirement

Graphic by Mike Johnson.

WASHINGTON — The government on Tuesday issued long-awaited radiation standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, setting a key public health threshold for experts to judge whether the nuclear waste site should be built.

A regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency purports to set the acceptable levels of radiation that people could receive from the Nevada site up to 1 million years in the future — no matter that nobody can tell what the Earth will look like then

Scientists vary in their confidence to predict climate and geology that far into the future, which helped explain why the EPA took three years to finalize the standards after floating a draft version in August 2005.

Now, in order to win a construction license, the Department of Energy must prove, through complex computer modeling, that the underground tunnel system it wants to excavate 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas to store spent nuclear fuel can meet the safety requirement.

“We believe we can meet the standard,” DOE spokesman Allen Benson said. The department’s case is laid out in a repository license application that is pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“With the issuance of the EPA standard for Yucca Mountain, the regulatory framework is in place for the nation to move forward to a regulatory decision by the NRC on Yucca Mountain,” Benson said.

The EPA set a two-part standard.

For the first 10,000 years after the repository is filled with 77,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, a theoretical farmer living 11 miles south of the Yucca site at Amargosa Valley could receive no more than 15 millirem of radiation exposure annually from materials escaping from the Yucca site.

For comparison, EPA officials say a chest X-ray exposes a patient to 10 millirem while a mammogram results in a 30 millirem exposure. Americans receive about 360 millirem a year from naturally occurring radiation in the environment.

After 10,000 years, and for up to 1 million years the allowable dose from the repository would be 100 millirems.

The time period was extended that far at the direction of the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that the most dangerous levels of radiation from decaying isotopes could exist way beyond the initial 10,000 years.

The EPA regulation also requires the DOE to consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes and waste canister corrosion during the million-year period.

An earlier EPA standard that limited the standard to 10,000 years was thrown out by a federal court in 2004, sending the agency back to the drawing board.

The revised regulation is more stringent than the draft, which recommended a long-term radiation standard of 350 millirem annually.

Initial reaction from Nevada was mixed.

The director of state’s nuclear projects agency said the rule was being studied but it appeared the EPA tightened the standards in several ways that would benefit public health.

“Clearly this standard is more protective than the previous one, no doubt about it,” said Bob Loux, who announced his resignation on Monday but who is continuing until a replacement is named.

But Loux added that if the EPA changed directions entirely between the draft and the final regulations, the state might request a new round of public comments on the rules, which could also serve to delay them from going into effect.

“It may very well be the right number,” Loux said. “But if they used a different rationale it may have to be reproposed and sent out for comment again.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the leading repository foe in Congress, said the EPA standard still was unacceptable.

“Let me be clear, there is no way this weak standard will breathe life into the Bush-McCain plan to dump nuclear waste in Nevada,” Reid said in a statement. “Instead, it will breathe life into more litigation against this terrible project.”

The EPA said it set aside the 350 millirem standard after receiving a number of critical public comments.

It said the newly set dose level of 100 millirem per year “is well established as protective of public health under current dose limits, and as such represents a robust public health protection standard in the extreme far future.”

Groups such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency “recommend its use as an overall public dose limit in planning for situations where exposures may be reasonably expected to occur.”

At least one environmental organization, Beyond Nuclear, echoed Reid’s criticism.

Representative Kevin Kamps said it was “incredible” that the EPA would allow future generations to be exposed to higher doses of harmful radiation than current generations.

“EPA’s final Yucca radiation release regulations are unacceptable. All human generations are of equal importance and moral worth,” Kamps said.


Yucca license application accepted for review

Yucca license application accepted for review

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators took a first step Monday toward allowing a radioactive waste dump in Nevada, agreeing to formally review the government’s license application for the dump.

It will still take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission up to four years to consider the Energy Department’s 8,600-page application and decide whether to grant the federal government permission to build the 77,000-ton dump.

Still the NRC’s determination that the license application was complete enough to be “docketed” for review was a step forward for the Energy Department, which submitted the application in June after years of delay.

The commissioners’ decision came over objections from the state of Nevada, which does not want to host the nation’s first nuclear waste dump, which would be carved into a volcanic ridge called Yucca Mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Nevada’s attorneys had already unsuccessfully petitioned the NRC to reject the license application. Nevada lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed to continue their opposition.

“While we were hopeful the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would reject Yucca Mountain’s license application, the latest development was a formality we expected,” Reid said. “I am confident the commissioners will see the same bad information and evidence of mismanagement Nevadans already have and will reject the Energy Department’s plan.”

Nearly $14 billion has already been spent on the repository and the total cost is now pegged at $96.2 billion. The opening date has been pushed back repeatedly and the best-case scenario is now 2020, presuming Congress grants adequate funding, something Reid’s opposition has prevented in recent years.


County’s double-checking feds’ work on Yucca

County’s double-checking feds’ work on Yucca

Sun, Aug 31, 2008 (2 a.m.)

The Clark County Commission occasionally approves contracts for tens of thousands of dollars to do work relating to Yucca Mountain.

These contracts are for environmental analysts, scientists and lawyers hired to look over the shoulder of the federal government as it plods forward with its plan to turn the mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas into the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

The federal government’s goal is to move about 154 million pounds of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods from 126 sites across the country to Yucca, an effort that has been stalled by lawsuits and Congressional action.

Meanwhile, local governments surrounding Yucca Mountain spend millions of dollars every year to monitor what the feds are doing.

Here’s the kicker: Those local governments don’t foot the bill.

The beneficiaries of nuclear power do.

How does that work?

Harry Kelman, senior management analyst with the Clark County Nuclear Waste Program, said a decades-old provision in the federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act forces the federal government to allow, and pay for, monitoring of Yucca Mountain plans by all “affected” units of government, including Nye County, where the repository resides, and the counties surrounding it.

Clark County’s portion this fiscal year is $1.7 million, Kelman said. That money comes from a portion of the utility fees paid by customers across the United States whose electricity comes from nuclear plants.

The contractors will do environmental impact assessments, review transportation reports, complete case studies, and monitor and collect a variety of data.

“No taxpayer is paying for Yucca Mountain,” Kelman said. “It’s a ratepayer that agreed to pay that rate.”

Is the hiring of consultants necessary?

“One of the things we try to do is protect the residents within our county and part of that is with the various studies that we do,” Kelman said. “We’re about a six-person team here and there’s no way we could do the work we do with six people.”

He also noted that the county determined it was cheaper to hire consultants than to add staff. And private sector consultants are able to change directions more quickly.

“One of the biggest parts of the program is the DOE (Energy Department) from year to year shifts their program around,” Kelman said. “We as a government can’t shift that fast. But a private consultant can.”

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: New ad hits McCain on Yucca

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: New ad hits McCain on Yucca

Obama TV spot is second on nuclear waste repository

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama began airing a new television ad in Las Vegas on Thursday that criticizes Republican John McCain for supporting the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

The ad, “Dangerous,” states, “If you don’t want nuclear waste here, you don’t want John McCain here.”

It is the second Nevada-specific ad the Obama campaign has aired on the Yucca issue.

The new ad features local residents expressing fears about radioactive waste being shipped to the site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, “passing through city after city and town after town.”

“He cares about his state; he really doesn’t care about Nevada,” resident Cathy Kama says in the ad. The narrator states, “John McCain says he’s opposed to nuclear waste going through Arizona. But he wants to dump it here, in Nevada.”

That claim is taken from a May 2007 interview on the Reno news discussion program “Nevada Newsmakers,” in which the Arizona senator was asked if he would be comfortable with nuclear waste being trucked through Phoenix and answered, “No, I would not.”

A previous Obama campaign ad featured a clip from the interview, provoking an objection from the show’s host, Sam Shad, who said the comment was taken out of context.

In the interview, McCain went on to say that nuclear waste transport would have to be made safer and that the waste’s current situation, in pools and ponds on nuclear plant sites around the country, was far more of a risk.

McCain spokesman Rick Gorka said Thursday that the ad was based on a “widely discredited” premise.

“Senator McCain’s point was it has to be done safely,” he said. “He doesn’t want to truck it through any state if it’s unsafe. That’s irresponsible, whether it’s Phoenix or Las Vegas. It has to be done with all the concerns addressed.”

If elected, Obama has vowed to stop the repository, which polls show is opposed by most Nevada residents.

McCain, a longtime supporter of the project, has seemed to soften his stance while campaigning here, saying he’d make sure the repository met environmental and safety standards.

“The choice this presidential election could not be more clear,” Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“Senator McCain has been a leading proponent in favor of storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain his entire career. He speaks about it, he brags about it, he wants it, no bones about it. Senator Obama has stated, inside the state of Nevada and outside the state of Nevada, if he is elected, this project is dead.”

Nevada twice threw its electoral votes to President Bush, who has pushed Yucca Mountain forward during his years in office.

Asked why the Obama campaign thinks the issue could be a winning one despite that history, Berkley said Nevadans were fooled by Bush’s mantra of “sound science” but are determined not to be fooled again.

“This time, Nevadans know better,” she said.

Berkley also accused the McCain campaign of using coded racial references to smear Obama.

“When I hear the word ‘elitist,’ to me that is a code word for ‘uppity,’ and I find it extremely offensive,” Berkley said. “John McCain should know better. … That’s a code word for ‘uppity black man,’ and that’s beneath the dignity of every American.”

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

Obama on Yucca

Obama on Yucca

Wed, Aug 13, 2008 (2:01 a.m.)

That John McCain is a fervent backer of Yucca Mountain is not in dispute.

So it was hardly surprising that Barack Obama’s first Nevada-specific ad of the cycle would be on the subject near and dear to every candidate who comes to Nevada and every media person who works here, but perhaps not so top of mind to those seeming irrelevancies known as voters.

What is surprising, however, is that the part of an interview with McCain highlighted in the ad, designed to indicate that the Arizona senator balks at shipping nuclear waste through his home state but is fine with its rolling down Nevada’s highways, appears to be quite unfair to the Republican. And that is no one’s fault but McCain’s.

Watching the interview with Sam Shad of “Nevada Newsmakers” from May 2007, it’s apparent McCain simply misunderstood his interlocutor. I don’t suggest that the Obama campaign realized this — although it is pretty obvious — but the exchange is truncated in the ad.

Check for yourself at http://www.nevadanewsmakers.com (search for McCain), but I will save you the trouble if you prefer not to surf. Here’s the exchange in the ad:

Shad: “Would you be comfortable with nuclear waste coming through Arizona on its way, you know going through Phoenix, on its way to Yucca Mountain?”

McCain: “No, I would not. No, I would not.”

But the actual interview has McCain quickly saying all in one breath in answer to Shad’s query, “No, I would not. No, I would not. I think it can be made safe.”

Now why would McCain emphasize how the waste “can be made safe” if he weren’t trying to emphasize he would have no worries about the substance passing through Phoenix? Obviously, he thought Shad was asking him whether he felt comfortable with waste going through Arizona and answered too quickly. So the central point of the ad — that McCain would be wary of it in Arizona but not in Nevada — is simply false.

Now the irony gets richer: The reason McCain was so obviously saying exactly the opposite of what the ad says is because he was trying to show why he is so supportive of Yucca Mountain.

(And even richer: Shad is trying to get the ad pulled because “it is an attack without full context on Sen. McCain.”)

He had previously told Shad “that we have to have a waste repository and that Yucca Mountain is the place it can be made safe.” He also said if the dump doesn’t happen, “we will have a more dangerous situation in my point of view,” with on-site storage, which he called a threat to national security.

The man, quite simply, loves the idea. Or did in May 2007 before he was the presumptive nominee and needed the state he ignored last year. Now he is trying to fudge a little by saying it has to meet “the environmental and safety standards that are necessary,” as he told KLAS-TV’s Mark Sayre over the weekend. That’s the same “sound science” sop — and a meaningless one — President Bush and many others have used.

McCain simply was demonstrating his Yuccalove in that Shad interview, so of course he would be comfortable with nuclear waste going through Arizona. Why? It can be made safe!

Obama’s position on the dump also is worth noting here vis-a-vis the ad, which declares the Democratic contender “opposes opening Yucca.” Indeed, he has said so, although what he can do if it is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is questionable.

Obama has no record of relevant votes on Yucca Mountain — he was not there for any of the Screw Nevada Bill iterations, nor for the final 2002 votes that sealed the deal with President Bush leading the way and Congress following.

Obama is full of promises and as Hillary Clinton — or is it McCain? — would say, he can give a good speech on Yucca Mountain, but how would he have voted? Remember Illinois is chock-full of nuclear plants and Obama’s ties to Exelon, a major contributor to his campaigns, have been documented in The New York Times and elsewhere. I am not sure that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could have persuaded Obama to oppose Yucca had the presidential hopeful been in the Senate in 2002.

So with McCain, you pretty much know what’s going to happen on Yucca and with Obama it’s a gamble — a microcosm of the election, from some perspectives at least.

One last note on this subject: Even more than a year ago, McCain’s electoral calculation is clear when he reminded Shad, “The president of the United States supported Yucca Mountain and he was able to carry Nevada in the last election.”

We will soon know whether history repeats.

Las Vegas Sun