Nevada hopes EPA standard will kill Yucca Mountain plan
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada’s two U.S. senators on Wednesday said the Environmental Protection Agency’s groundwater radiation standard for Yucca Mountain could help derail plans for the nuclear repository.
”We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got the vast majority of what we wanted” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
”This may in the future stop Yucca Mountain from being licensed, even if the site is found suitable,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
However, Department of Energy officials from Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to J. Russell Dyer, Las Vegas-based Yucca Mountain Project manager, said they were confident they can meet the EPA water quality standard.
”We’ve got to meet whatever the target is,” Dyer said at a Tuesday night public hearing in Las Vegas.
Joseph Ziegler, DOE senior technical adviser, pointed to the Supplemental Draft Environmental Statement on the Yucca Mountain plan and said the drinking water contamination projections are ”practically zero.”
Reid said he, like the rest of the Nevada congressional delegation, remains steadfastly opposed to accepting the nation’s 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive military waste at the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
”I still oppose Yucca Mountain in Nevada,” Reid said. ”This (EPA standard) will make the scientific determination real.”
The long-awaited EPA standard set a key target for the Energy Department to meet before Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham makes a site suitability recommendation to President Bush late this year or early next year.
Yucca Mountain is the only place in the nation being studied as a repository for the nation’s nuclear waste. Under the 1982 act setting a study process in motion, the Department of Energy would build and run the site, the EPA would set the health standards and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would enforce them.
After $7 billion worth of study and site testing, approval is at least a year away. The earliest the first load of nuclear waste could arrive is 2010. The project is expected to cost $58 billion over 100 years.
Scientists and engineers have designed a burial zone 1,000 feet below ground and 1,000 feet above groundwater tables. They concede that over the 10,000-year span they’re studying, containers will deteriorate and some radioactivity might leach through rock.
The new EPA radiation exposure standard for groundwater near the site is not more than 4 millirem per year. Overall radiation from all sources cannot exceed 15 millirem for a person 11 miles from the site.
By comparison, three chest X-rays expose a person to about 18 millirem. Background radiation from naturally occurring sources expose most people to about 360 millirem a year.
EPA Administrator Christine Whitman said the EPA standards protect future generations.
Nevada officials, still sifting through the technical elements of the EPA standard, aren’t convinced.
”The (Bush) administration has further weakened a standard that was already too weak,” said Michael O’Donovan, aide to U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
”Nevada remains prepared to fight any aspect that would hamper our ability to have the Yucca Mountain site declared unsafe,” said Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican.
Guinn and Bob Loux, director of the Nevada state Nuclear Projects Office focused on the ”point of compliance” portion of the report, which calls for groundwater testing 11 miles from the site.
They said the distance could allow radiation to be diluted through the Amargosa aquifer, a water source for farms and residents in the surrounding area.
Guinn said that imposing a point of compliance standard of 3 miles from Yucca Mountain – like the standard set at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico – would probably disqualify Yucca Mountain for consideration.
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