Time to move forward with Yucca Mountain

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

After 14 years and $6.8 billion worth of studies, it’s time to move forward with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

This is an important step toward fulfilling the promise made by the federal government to Minnesotans and all those who currently live with nuclear waste in their communities.

There are 131 sites in 39 states that currently store nuclear waste in temporary above ground complexes.

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Prairie Island in Red Wing is one of those sites.

Monticello stores its nuclear waste in water pools on site. Neither of these options offer long-term solutions.

In 1982 Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), which promised that the federal government would dispose of commercial spent fuel and federally generated radioactive waste, and set 1998 as the goal for project completion.

The NWPA calls for disposal of the waste in a repository in a deep geologic formation that is unlikely to be disturbed for thousands of years.

In 1987, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act restricted DOE’s repository site studies to Yucca Mountain, stipulating that if the site proves unsuitable, DOE must return to Congress for further instructions.

Study after study has confirmed the safety of the Yucca Mountain site.

A 2001 National Academy of Sciences report stated that “After four decades of study, the geological repository option remains the only scientifically credible, long-term solution for safely isolating waste without having to rely on active management.”

In the future, new technologies can certainly play a role in the handling of nuclear waste.

The House energy bill, the Securing America’s Future Energy Act, would establish a spent nuclear fuel “recycling” research and development program.

Such a recycling program could reduce the volume and long-term toxicity of nuclear waste.

Experts believe we can destroy plutonium in the waste through nuclear fission.

However, a repository remains the best option for storage of nuclear waste in the near term.

Since the 1960s, the Department of Energy has transported spent nuclear fuel more than 1.6 million miles without one incident resulting in the harmful release of radiation.

Currently, more than 300 million hazardous material shipments travel the country’s roadways each year.

The Department of Energy has a solid transportation safety record.

Nuclear energy is an important piece of our nation’s energy resources.

We must fulfill our obligation and provide final approval for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

This week the House overrode the veto from Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn.

The Senate should do the same.

The federal government is already 12 years behind on its promise to store nuclear waste.

It is time to live up to that promise.

Gil Gutknecht represents Minnesota’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.