Wednesday, November 17, 1999 2:41 AM
By Abby Johnson
Yucca Mountain has been poked, prodded, probed, boreholed, boiled, and baked by the Department of Energy's world-class scientists, taking exploratory surgery to new depths in an effort to learn whether the mountain is a safe place to put 70,000 tons of nuclear waste.
After a quarter century of scrutiny, you'd think the DOE would have a definitive answer about whether the mountain will contain the nuclear waste for millenniums to come. And you'd think there would be some impacts from this huge undertaking.
Now the DOE has produced a 1,600-page draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and 22 compact disks of back-up references. The EIS is supposed to look at the impacts of building a repository at Yucca Mountain and transporting nuclear waste from nuclear power plants and defense facilities all over the country to Yucca Mountain.
Impacts? According to DOE, the analysis of potential short-term and long-term environmental impacts of building the repository, filling it ith nuclear waste, and closing it forever would be "small." A colleague remarked that he's seen more impacts identified in a traffic analysis for a new fast food restaurant than he has found in DOE's depiction of this massive national undertaking.
DOE is suggesting three possible modes of transportation for bringing the nuclear waste through 43 states to Yucca Mountain. They could drive the waste there on interstates using legal-weight trucks. They could send most of it by train, and they are looking at five options of building a railroad to Yucca Mountain. DOE is also considering "heavy haul" which is rail to a transfer point in Nevada, then 200-foot heavy-haul trucks, likely on existing roads, to the repository.
Although they know exactly where the nuclear power plants are, and where Yucca Mountain is, the EIS provides a "generic" transportation analysis. Specific transcontinental routes and communities along the way are not identified, perhaps so that the millions of people along the routes won't realize that they are affected.
DOE explores the possibility of building a repository at Yucca Mountain, and provides two "no action" alternatives if the repository is not built. One would have the waste stay where it is under institutional control for just 100 years. The other possibility is that the waste would stay under institutional control for 10,000 years. DOE acknowledges that neither is likely to occur but says that other scenarios would be too speculative.
How would the construction and operation of a repository at Yucca Mountain affect Nevadans? The draft EIS does not really address those specific community, statewide, and regional impacts. While DOE intends to decide on a transportation route and mode based on the EIS, specific community impact information is lacking.
Also missing is the discussion of the stigma effects on the tourist-based economy of hosting a nuclear repository or having a nuclear accident. While Las Vegas is the area of primary concern for stigma, it could have repercussions throughout the entire state.
Emergency response and emergency management? The EIS does not address this in any depth. Until the routes are decided it is premature to provide that kind of analysis, according to DOE's approach.
How does this relate to life in Carson City? While no truck shipments are planned to go through Carson City, the nuclear waste issue has economic, health, and safety implications for all Nevadans, three-quarters of whom consistently oppose the Yucca Mountain project.
The Department of Energy will hold official public hearings on their Draft EIS in Carson City on Dec. 2 at the Legislative Building, noon-3 pm and 6-10 pm. They will take public comment on what you think the impacts of Yucca Mountain will be and what they should do about it.
Whatever your opinion, this is the time to state it for the record. DOE is required to respond to the comments raised at the hearings in its final EIS, which will be used by other federal agencies, and likely the courts, to make future Yucca Mountain decisions.
Tonight the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office will hold an EIS Participation Workshop to help citizens have their say at the hearings. It's at the Brewery Arts Center at 7 pm, and will be led by former Washoe Valley resident Marla Painter.
I often hear people say that they care about the Yucca Mountain issue, but they don't know what to do. This is an opportunity to do something, by speaking up at the hearing and voicing your opinion. That's what democracy is all about.For information on the DOE hearings, call 800-967-3477. The EIS should be at the Carson City and State libraries, and is on DOE's website at www.ymp.gov. To learn more about the state's workshop, call 687-3744. For general information about Yucca Mountain, including links, check out Eureka County's website, www.yuccamountain.org. The written comment deadline is Feb. 9, 2000. DOE will accept written comments by mail, fax, over the Internet or at the Dec. 2 hearing.
Now, go do the right thing.
Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, grant management and nuclear waste issues. She is married and has one middle school-age child. Her opinions about Yucca Mountain are personal, and are not necessarily those of her nuclear waste clients.