Oral Testimony of Governor Kenny C. Guinn
State of Nevada
Before the U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Energy and Power

( HR 45 - The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1999 )

— February 10, 1999 —

     Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Kenny Guinn, and I am the Governor of the State of Nevada. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to address a matter of extreme importance not only to the people of Nevada, but also to citizens throughout the country.

Before I address the substance of my testimony on the nuclear waste legislation, let me take a few minutes to put my remarks into context.

I am new to the Nevada governorship, having been elected in November; the first Republican to hold the office since 1982. I am not a career politician; this was my first run for elective office. But I am not new to public service, either. I've worked as a teacher, as a school administrator, as superintendent of schools for the Las Vegas metro area, and as president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

I have been a resident of southern Nevada for 35 years, where my wife and I raised our two sons and now enjoy our four grandchildren.

We've watched the Las Vegas Valley grow from a small city of a hundred thousand or so people to a major metropolis and international tourism center with almost a million and a half citizens and 30 million visitors a year from all over the United States and the world.

I also served as the chief executive officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Southwest Gas Corporation, a major utility company for Nevada. Consequently, I have more than a passing familiarity with the problems facing the utility industry as well as an intuitive feel for when a problem is real and when it's being used for political purposes.

Mr. Chairman, HR 45 is wrong for our country for several important reasons. It is scientifically unsound; it creates health and safety risks not only for the people of Nevada but also for all those whose homes and businesses are in the transportation paths of the deadliest substances known to man; and it violates the spirit of the Tenth Amendment to the United State Constitution by targeting Nevada on a purely political basis.

HR 45 is the latest in a string of failed bills designed to fashion a quick and expedient fix for the high-level radioactive waste program that has been bungled over the years by the Department of Energy.

But like its predecessors, this bill will not fix anything. Rather, HR 45 will exacerbate the problems facing nuclear utility companies and the nation. It will, if enacted into law, create a huge unfunded liability for the American taxpayer; undermine environmental, health, and safety laws and regulations; and put millions of citizens in hundreds of cities in 43 states at substantial risk from the transportation of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste through their communities.

And that doesn't begin to take into account what the legislation will do to Nevada, where it will continue the flawed and potentially disastrous Yucca Mountain repository project by eliminating existing standards for determining site suitability, reducing regulatory requirements governing radiation exposures to the public, and exempting DOE from federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations. As I point out in my written statement, the evidence is clear that Yucca Mountain should be disqualified as a repository location, and no amount of legislative gerrymandering will change that.

DOE recently released a so-called "Viability Assessment" for Yucca Mountain. The report calls to mind a famous Harry Truman quote: "If you can't convince them, confuse them."

A study based on flawed, biased, and incomplete science, the Viability Assessment may very well be remembered for what DOE doesn't want acknowledged about Yucca Mountain; namely that the waste isolation features of the mountain are, in fact, insufficient to assure that radioactive wastes do not escape into the environment.

One startling revelation emerges from this report: To make the Nevada site meet even minimal standards - standards, I would point out, that are far less stringent than for other nuclear facilities in the country - DOE's Viability Assessment must rely on waste disposal containers that will last for 750,000 years.

What happened, Mr. Chairman, to the requirement that the geologic environment itself must be able to contain the waste for the time required, with so-called engineered barriers providing only enhancement and redundancy for the system? This requirement is the very basis for deep geologic disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste in the first place.

The area encompassing Yucca Mountain and the Nevada Test Site lies within a region identified by the US Geological Survey as one of the most seismically active regions in the country. During the past 20 years, there have been over 621 earthquakes recorded with magnitudes of 2.5 or greater, including a 5.6 magnitude quake in 1992 that occurred just 12 miles from the proposed repository and even closer to the proposed interim storage site, causing over $500,000 in damage to DOE's Yucca Mountain support facilities.

Just last month, two substantial earthquakes - one 4.5 and the other 4.7 - and a swarm of smaller quakes were recorded in the Frenchman Flat area of the Test Site, very close to Yucca Mountain and Area 25, the proposed interim storage location.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service recently commissioned a study to screen possible locations for a new national data processing facility for immigration records and information. The INS specifically ruled out all of southern Nevada and southern California because this region is considered to be too prone to disruption by earthquakes.

Isn't it ironic that it is acceptable to store extremely dangerous and long-lived radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, but it's too risky to use the same area for storing records on legal and illegal immigrants?

HR 45 also designates the Nevada Test Site as the location for a so-called interim storage facility for nuclear waste. It does so without one bit of scientific or technical evidence suggesting that the site is safe and suitable for such storage and without any justification whatsoever, other than Nevada's perceived political vulnerability.

Many of the same factors that make Yucca Mountain unsuitable as a repository location also make the Nevada Test Site unsuitable for above ground storage of spent fuel and high-level waste, as proposed by HR 45. Such a facility can not meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing requirements governing seismic risk for nuclear facilities.

As a businessman, Mr. Chairman, legislation like this makes no sense to me. As a father and grandfather, the unnecessary risks it poses, not only to present and future generations of Nevadans, but also to families and children in communities throughout the country, seem unconscionable.

Not only does HR 45 put Nevada's people and environment at risk, Mr. Chairman, but it would also expose thousands of cities and communities throughout the country to an unprecedented and potentially hazardous nuclear waste shipping campaign that will involve tens of thousands of truckloads and rail shipments over a sustained period of 30 years or more.

HR 45 would have thousands of shipments of dangerous nuclear waste rolling over the nation's highways and railroads within 4 years; it will result in massive unfunded costs to states and communities for emergency planning and preparedness; it will increase the risk of radiation exposures to people traveling on the country's interstate highways; it will dramatically increase the risk of radiation exposure due to accidents that will invariably occur in a shipping campaign of this magnitude; and it will significantly increase the risk of terrorism or sabotage against the inviting targets of nuclear waste trucks and trains.

The cost of this legislation poses another major problem. Our analysts, with the oversight of a major national accounting firm, recently estimated 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. They found 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.

And what, Mr. Chairman, will the nation have gained by incurring this risk and the enormous costs the program will entail?

If permitted to go forward, this legislation will result in the movement of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste to a questionable and risky location, to a facility that cannot meet NRC safety standards, next to a so-called repository site that is incapable of isolating radioactive materials as required and that will never be licensed or built.

At that point, Mr. Chairman, what does the nation do?

Will Congress pass legislation authorizing DOE to move all of the waste back across country to where it came from?

Will we attempt to find another, actually suitable, storage site, with all the political baggage such an effort would imply?

Mr. Chairman, the direction this legislation leads Congress and the nation is fraught with peril and dangerous precedent. As a Republican and someone who strongly believes in the principles of federalism that govern state-federal relationships in this country, I am very much disturbed by the damage HR 45 does to this essential principle that has characterized the American republic for over 200 years.

Those who support this unfair legislation would have the American people believe there is no suitable alternative to shipping nuclear waste to Nevada. It should be known by everyone who follows this issue that science has created a process, dry cask storage, which enables high-level waste to be stored on-site at reactor locations for 100 years or more, sufficient time to explore more permanent and scientifically sound methods such as reprocessing.

This legislation throws science out the window. It throws equity and fairness away. It places raw political expediency as the driving force for dealing with difficult problems involving technology and the environment.

Mr. Chairman, HR 45 is bad legislation and bad public policy. It will do great harm to Nevada, to many other states, and to the political fabric of our nation.

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