WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing today on the federal government’s program to dispose of used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs at a geologic repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s chief nuclear officer, Marvin Fertel, made the following comments about the program:
“As the Department of Energy moves steadily closer to the submission of a license application for the planned Yucca Mountain repository to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, today’s hearing was an opportune time to note that there is some 20 years of solid science undergirding this program. Over the past two decades, billions of dollars have been spent on analyses of the repository site by many of our nation’s leading scientific experts. This analysis will continue during construction and operation of the repository so that public health and safety of future generations will be protected.
“Today’s hearing also was an appropriate time to note that, as early as 1957, the National Academy of Sciences recommended disposing radioactive waste in geologic formations. This is a project in which our nation can take great pride, because it is all about environmental stewardship. Through its hard work at this barren ridge in the Nevada desert, the United States is leading the worldwide efforts to develop geologic disposal facilities for high-level radioactive waste. This is literally the most studied site of its kind in the world.
“It is dismaying that today’s hearing was marred by factual inaccuracies that fly in the face of scientifically provable and measurable facts. It is fact, for example, that background radiation levels in Denver are well above the U.S. average of 300 millirem per year. It is not true that the Yucca Mountain project would lead to uncontrolled radiation exposures. And it is not true that the science at the project site has been manipulated. The nuclear industry believes it is important that these issues be settled based on a fair, thorough, impartial and open consideration of the facts. The Yucca Mountain licensing process will provide a rigorous and transparent examination of the scientific and technical facts in which opinions will be aired, vetted and accorded a full adjudicatory hearing.
“Ultimately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will judge whether to approve the Department of Energy’s project. The key role for Congress to play — implementing its endorsement of the site’s suitability in 2002 — is to ensure that funds are available and appropriated in sufficient amounts for the Department of Energy to complete the work that it needs to in a timely fashion, and for the NRC to fulfill its safety mission. It is also appropriate for Congress to provide oversight at key points in the Yucca Mountain project development.
“Current national policy with regard to management of high-level radioactive waste was formulated in 1982 with enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. This policy has been reaffirmed on several occasions since. Even under an integrated used nuclear fuel management approach that in the future may involve advanced reprocessing technologies, there always will be byproducts that require geologic disposal.”