KENNY C. GUINN - GOVERNOR OF NEVADA
BEFORE THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND POWER
OF THE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE
FEBRUARY 10, 1999
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today on a subject that we in Nevada have been confronting for more than 20 years, and has held our full attention as a state since Congress acted in 1987 to single out Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the only site to be studied as a candidate repository site for the nation's commercial and government-owned high-level nuclear waste.
We are all aware of the political nature of that 1987 decision. And we are all aware that no state would accept that decision with any less opposition than Nevada has shown during the past nearly 12 years. In 1989, the Nevada Legislature enacted a law making the storage of high-level nuclear waste illegal in the State. Some 14 other states had similarly intended legislation on their books at the time.
In a recent bi-annual poll conducted by the University of Nevada regarding major public issues in the State, 75% of Nevada citizens were opposed to Yucca Mountain becoming the final destination for the nation's high-level nuclear waste. Since 1992, this number has risen by 16 percentage points in the same poll. One must wonder why Nevadans, in impressive and increasing numbers oppose this imposition within our state.
The reasons are many, but they settle generally into two important categories - political fairness and equity, and safety. Nevada has no nuclear power reactors, and is far distant from most of the nation's reactors, which are east of the Mississippi River. The principle of regional equity that was intentionally embedded in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act as a fairness gesture for western states was essentially stripped from the Act in 1987. And now we see a further insult to fairness and equity in HR 45, which contains a provision to preempt any state laws, including federally delegated environmental protection authorities, that might interfere with the bill's purpose of storing nuclear waste in Nevada. Fairness is also at issue in the matter of HR 45's elimination of the Secretary of Energy's duty to determine, based on statutory criteria, the suitability of the site for development of a repository, and Nevada's ability to disapprove in a substantive manner before Congress, the Secretary's recommendation that the Yucca Mountain site be developed as a repository.
Both fairness and equity, and safety are at stake in the ongoing stream of actions to preserve the viability of the Yucca Mountain site through compromise of safety, suitability and licensing standards. The site should have been disqualified from further consideration in 1992 when it was clear to all parties that it did not meet the established safety standard for radionuclide releases from geologic repositories. Instead, Congress instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to write new, site specific safety standards for a Yucca Mountain repository, and directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conform its licensing regulations to that new standard. EPA has not yet acted, but the NRC has proposed a new standard for a Yucca Mountain repository that is less protective than that applied to the DOE's geologic repository for transuranic wastes at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in New Mexico. The NRC also has ignored the Safe Drinking Water Act protection limit for radionuclides in drinking water, even though it is known that radionuclides released from a Yucca Mountain repository will contaminate the water supply aquifer used by local residents and farmers. Groundwater protection is afforded by law to all other people of the United States.
In December, 1998 former Governor Bob Miller and I, as Nevada Governor-elect, joined in a letter to Energy Secretary Richardson stating that the Yucca Mountain site should be disqualified from further consideration as a repository based on criteria established in the DOE's guidelines for repository site recommendation that were enacted pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and remain in effect today. The technical basis for disqualification was cited from DOE and other site data and analyses. Data and information presented in DOE's subsequently released Viability Assessment serves to confirm our finding that the site meets the guidelines' provision for disqualification due to rapid groundwater flow that would carry released radionuclides through Yucca Mountain and to the accessible environment. Despite clear information to the contrary in the Viability Assessment and in later DOE documents, Secretary Richardson responded that the disqualifying condition is not met. He said that average groundwater travel time from the repository to the accessible environment is greater than the required minimum 1,000 years. HR 45 would moot this critical safety criterion by eliminating the existing site recommendation guidelines and the required factors which are used to qualify or disqualify a candidate repository site.
With DOE's recent understanding that there are fast pathways for groundwater movement through Yucca Mountain, it revised its repository performance assessment code for use in the Viability Assessment and revised its safety strategy for a Yucca Mountain repository. The original notion of a geologic repository was that the natural features of the site, its geology and hydrology, would serve a significant role in assuring long-term isolation of the waste, and that engineered barriers would be employed to enhance the site's waste isolation capabilities. Now, the Yucca Mountain safety strategy relies nearly entirely on the predicted long lifetime of the metal waste containers in the repository, and then as the containers fail the released waste is intended to be diluted in the groundwater as it travels to locations where it can be pumped for human consumption and use. New information, presented last month to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board by DOE, indicates that the Yucca Mountain site's natural barriers to waste release only account for a fraction of a percent of the predicted repository performance, and the engineered waste container is the primary functional barrier. As the containers fail, mainly due to corrosion, increasing amounts of radionuclides will be released to the groundwater, and the predicted average peak dose to humans will be approximately 250 times the limit set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Yucca Mountain site, according to all current data will not function as a geologic repository. Instead, if developed, it would be an underground engineered repository until the engineered barriers fail. With failure, the resulting doses would be totally unacceptable, for health and safety reasons, if they were intended to be imposed on the public today. HR 45's provision for a maximum dose standard of 100 millirems per year to an average individual in the vicinity of the site represents a standard 25 times greater than the dose limit of the Safe Drinking Water Act. This too, in our view, is an unacceptable risk to the public coming from just one component of the nuclear fuel cycle. This is an especially important consideration in view of new information about plutonium and tritium migration at unexpectedly long distances from underground nuclear weapons test locations at the Nevada Test Site. Some of these contaminants, once they exit the Test Site boundary will add to the radionuclide concentration in the same aquifer affected by releases from a Yucca Mountain repository, further increasing the predicted doses to the public.
Broad ranges of uncertainty plague the calculated performance assessment for a Yucca Mountain repository. The Viability Assessment indicates that the uncertainty associated with the waste package lifetime projections is a factor of about 1,000 fold, and the uncertainty in the total performance assessment is on the order of a factor of 100,000 to 1 million. DOE's primary effort is to reduce uncertainty in the engineered system, since it does not believe it can further significantly reduce uncertainty in the performance predictions of the natural system. DOE continues to express the results of the performance calculations as mean values, without elaborating on the associated range of uncertainty, which means that a predicted dose of 1 millirem to an individual per year could actually represent an expected range of dose spanning from .001 millirems to 1,000 millirems. The lower portion of the range might be an acceptable dose, while the upper range doses certainly are not acceptable. It does not appear that the uncertainties associated with the Yucca Mountain repository performance calculations will be reduced significantly at the time the Secretary's suitability determination and site recommendation is scheduled to be made. This casts serious doubt on the use of the Viability Assessment to support any decision to continue site characterization and expenditures of the Nuclear Waste Fund on the Yucca Mountain site.
Seismicity and earthquake impacts have been generally relegated by DOE to be design issues for a Yucca Mountain repository, including the surface facility during the operations phase. At issue is the credibility and feasibility of designs for both underground and surface facilities to withstand safely a possible Magnitude 7 earthquake in the vicinity of the site, and the strong ground shaking predicted to occur sometime in the next 10,000 years by the Viability Assessment technical bases information reports. As you may have heard, a swarm of earthquake activity has occurred during the past month on the Nevada Test Site, with the largest registering Magnitude 4.7, and eight events greater than Magnitude 3.0 in a four day period. These earthquakes have occurred on the eastern end of the Rock Valley Fault, one of the most active faults on the Test Site. Swarms of earthquakes on the western end of this fault, near Yucca Mountain are commonplace. I have attached recent press accounts of these earthquakes to my statement.
During the period 1976 to 1996, within a fifty mile radius of Yucca Mountain there have been over 620 recorded earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 2.5. The largest of these, with a magnitude of 5.6, occurred on June 29, 1992 at Little Skull Mountain, a few miles from the Yucca Mountain site. This earthquake, on a fault near the Rock Valley Fault, caused damage to the DOE's Yucca Mountain Field Operations Center at the Test Site.
Independent researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University recently reported that their investigations in the Yucca Mountain region indicate tectonic strain and earth crustal deformation is more than ten times greater than previously assessed by the Yucca Mountain Project. This could lead to more frequent and larger earthquakes than previously predicted for the Yucca Mountain area, and a greater probability of recurrence of volcanic activity that could impact the repository site. Further research is being carried out by these scientists and the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology under a cooperative agreement with DOE.
It is noteworthy that, under current Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations regarding earthquake potential, a nuclear power reactor would not be licensable at the Yucca Mountain site, and an Interim Storage Facility as proposed by HR 45 would be subject to the same safety regulations. The apparent proposed location of the Interim Storage Facility on the Test Site lies between the Yucca Mountain site and the location of the 1992 earthquake and the Rock Valley Fault.
Aside from earthquake safety concerns associated with the Interim Storage Facility proposed by HR 45, operation of the facility would begin transportation of high-level nuclear waste from the nation's nuclear power reactors and DOE defense facility locations to Nevada, based on the apparent assumption that the Yucca Mountain repository site will be found suitable and receive a license for development and operation of a repository. Not only does this assumption incorrectly prejudge the technical suitability of the site, as discussed above, but it encourages approval to begin development of an unsafe repository. If the repository is not approved or developed, the waste would have to be moved again to some future disposal location, thus increasing transportation risks to the public. As it is, transportation of the thousands of shipments of waste to Nevada over a thirty year period will impact 43 states, and more than 50 million Americans within a one half mile of the highway and rail routes.
Transportation risks are exacerbated by the evolving threat from terrorist action or sabotage. Spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste trucks and trains will make for new and potentially attractive targets, especially in the many urban areas through which they must pass en route to a Nevada facility.
The cost of this legislation poses another major problem. An independent cost assessment, released in February 1998, was conducted by a team of experts with oversight by a major national accounting firm. The report estimates the total cost of the repository and interim storage system envisioned by HR 45, using procedures similar to those employed by DOE in its Total System Life Cycle Cost evaluations, and concludes that the total cost for development, operation, and closure to be $53.9 billion in 1996 dollars. The Nuclear Waste Fund, at maximum, will generate only about half of the necessary funds. It is unacceptable that the American taxpayer should have to bear the burden of paying billions of dollars for this misguided and risky program that was originally intended to be one of full cost recovery.
The development and operation of interim storage and repository facilities in Nevada and the transportation of spent fuel and highly radioactive materials to such facilities will also result in significant socioeconomic impacts. These impacts will be felt most acutely by Nevada's tourism-based economy, but they will also affect cities and communities all across the country should there be accidents or incidents involving nuclear waste shipments, as there almost certainly will given the magnitude and duration of the shipping campaign.
In Nevada, the impacts from disruptions of the tourism economy due to real or perceived risks from repository or interim storage-related activities could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the nature of the precipitating event, its location (i.e., within the Las Vegas metropolitan area), the intensity of media attention given to it, and other variables.
Similar economic disruptions are clearly possible in any of the hundreds of major metropolitan areas through which waste shipments will pass and in rural areas that are especially vulnerable to radiation-driven impacts (i.e., such as agricultural or ranching areas that could be either contaminated or stigmatized as a result of an accident or incident).
HR 45 is an unacceptable bill for Nevadans because it promotes unprecedented health and safety risks to current and future Nevadans - at levels no other citizens of the nation are expected or required to endure. HR 45 is an unacceptable bill for the nation because it imposes unnecessary radiation risks from normal transportation operations and accidents on a significant portion of the population.
I urge rejection of HR 45 in the interest of protecting the health and safety of Nevadans and all Americans.
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views and those of my fellow Nevadans to this Subcommittee on a matter of critical importance to my state and the nation.