Bush endorses Energy Department’s Yucca Mountain plan

Posted 7:42 p.m. Feb. 26

by Robbie Friedman

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush announced his endorsement of the Energy Department’s plan to store 77,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste in an underground complex in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain last week.

The nuclear waste plan “is necessary to protect public safety, health and the nation’s security because successful completion of this project would isolate in a geologic repository at a remote location highly radioactive materials now scattered throughout the nation,” Bush wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

Opponents of the plan cite that the “isolated remote location” is 90 miles north of Las Vegas, the fastest growing urban center in the country.

Outraged Nevadans support Gov. Kenny Guinn’s lawsuit in a federal court against the Energy Department, arguing the site violates a nuclear waste law passed in 1982.

Also unnerving to many critics is the way the highly reactive waste will be transported. Trucks filled with nuclear waste pose two problems: A simple driving accident can be catastrophic, and the trucks are potential terrorist targets.

Harvey Wasserman, a senior Greenpeace analyst, is worried because “there is no end to the potential problem of what’s going to happen to this stuff if they try to start moving it.”

The decision to make Yucca Mountain the home of America’s nuclear waste was not unexpected, despite resistance from some ever since it was made possible by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The law says, “The term Yucca Mountain site means the candidate site in the State of Nevada recommended by the secretary to the president on May 27, 1986.”

This amendment to the 1982 policy has come to be known by Nevadans as the “screw Nevada rule.”

In the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Guinn claimed the radiation safety standards set for Yucca Mountain by the Environmental Protection Agency are more lenient than those for disposing of less harmful types of nuclear waste. Although Bush has endorsed the nuclear waste plan, it still has to be approved by Congress.

The president also announced a new environmental approach for clean air he calls “Clear Skies.”

Simply put, the “Clear Skies” project would cut outputs of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, by 73 percent in power plants. Production of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog, also would be cut 67 percent by 2018. The plan also would reduce mercury emissions, a toxin that damages the nervous system, by 69 percent over the next 20 years.

Jeffrey Holmstead of the EPA said besides being a less costly plan than the current pollution plan, the Clean Air Act, Bush’s plan also “gets us substantially more reductions sooner than we could possibly get under the Clean Air Act.”

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