United States House of Representatives

Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
2165 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-9446

Opening Statement of Shelley Berkley
U.S. Representative, Nevada

April 25, 2002

As the Representative from southern Nevada, I must express the outrage felt throughout Nevada about the Yucca Mountain project. Over 83 % of the people I represent vehemently oppose Yucca Mountain. Why are Nevadans so outraged? Because the state of Nevada produces not one kilowatt of energy through the use of nuclear power. And we create not one ounce of nuclear waste. Yet the federal government is asking the state of Nevada to store 77,000 tons of high level nuclear waste within an hour's drive of the homes of 1.4 million men, women, and children. We don't want the dump, and our country does not need this dump. Yucca mountain is not the solution to the problem of disposal of nuclear waste.

There is a myth that the approval of Yucca Mountain as a high-level nuclear waste repository will solve the problem of on-site storage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Department of Energy admits that as long as we produce nuclear energy, nuclear waste will always be stored on-site. When proponents of Yucca Mountain speak of consolidating the 131 storage site into one repository located at Yucca Mountain, it's a deception. We won't be eliminating storage sites, we will be adding another.

The administration's energy plan calls for an escalating reliance on nuclear energy, which means the continued creation of nuclear waste. We will never solve the nation's nuclear waste problem as long as we are pushing an energy policy that continually produces more deadly waste, without offering any solutions. As long as we continue to rely on nuclear power, we will have on-site storage.

Today there are 46,000 tons of nuclear waste stored on-site. If we continue to rely on nuclear power, we will create an additional 2,000 tons of waste a year. At that rate, in the year 2036 when Yucca Mountain is filled to capacity with 77,000 tons of nuclear waste, there will still be 44,000 tons of nuclear waste still stored at reactor sites. That means after 38 years of shipping high level waste through our cities and towns we will have reduced onsite storage of nuclear waste by a mere 4%. I would also emphasize that these figures pre-date proposals to increase nuclear power, so this is a conservative estimate of how much nuclear waste will be on site at mid-Century. Why would we want to ship nuclear waste across 45 states for 38 years if it makes no difference in the amount of waste stored on-site throughout the country?

Why should we worry about transportation? Because more than 123 million people currently live in the 703 counties traversed by the DOE's proposed highway routes, and 106 million people live in counties along DOE's rail routes. DOE predicts that within the next 30 to 40 years between 10 and 16 million people will live within just one half mile of a transportation route. At the peak of the DOE's shipping schedule somewhere in our country a nuclear waste shipment will leave a reactor every four hours. Given the frequency of these shipments and the sheer volume of the nuclear waste, even routine radiation from the nuclear waste casks, given off while passing on the highway, or stuck at a red light, would be a health concern for people living and working in the vicinity of the transportation routes.

And what if there is an accident? The DOE's own environmental impact statement documents that with 108,000 shipments we can expect between 50 and 300 accidents. In just the last two weeks we have unfortunately witnessed two separate devastating train accidents. On Tuesday, a commuter train in California ran head-on into a freight train. On April 18, an passenger train derailed in Florida. Last July, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in a Baltimore tunnel, closing down the city. That tunnel is on a train route identified by the DOE as a potential route to move waste from the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. Can you imagine if this accident involved nuclear waste?.... The chaos the evacuation would cause? ... The potential number of casualties, the health risks? Can you imagine the cost of the cleanup?

An even greater concern should be the threat of a terrorist attack. With over 108,000 shipments traveling across the country for 38 years, after 9/11 this is a real threat. With the DOE planning as many as 3,000 barge shipments, in major ports like Boston, New Haven, Newark, Jersey City, Baltimore, Norfolk, Miami, Milwaukee, Muskeegon and Omaha, how hard is it to imagine a nuclear U.S.S. Cole incident? We cannot be naive and think there aren't people out there who are willing to give up their lives to end ours.

Two separate tests, one done at Sandia National Laboratory, and the other at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds demonstrates that a TOW missile can breach a nuclear waste canister, and release deadly radiation. This type of terrorist attack, essentially causing a 'dirty bomb' effect, would be disastrous to the environment and human health.

You may think that we have tested these casks for exactly that type of scenario. But casks currently in use around the country are licensed through a combination of scale-model testing and computer simulations. Do we really think it is a good policy to ship 108,000 shipments in casks that have never been actually tested?

The projected costs of the Yucca Mountain project already range from $56 billion to $309 billion. How do we plan to pay for this? The Nuclear Waste Trust Fund only has $11 billion. Where is the rest of the money going to come from? Are we going to raise taxes? Are we going to raid social security? Are we going to increase the surcharge to the nuclear power ratepayers?

And what if that accident or terrorist attack happens? Who is going to pay the cleanup costs, the local governments? How can any of us say that we are fiscally responsible when we are preparing to hand a blank check to the DOE and use the local municipalities and the American taxpayer as the guarantor?

The DOE does not like to talk about cost and transportation, because they know the more we know how much waste is going to be transported through our districts, the more likely we are to oppose this project. Make no mistake about it, this is our last chance to vote on the Yucca Mountain issue. If you are concerned with nuclear waste going through your districts, and you want to have your voices heard, if you want to protect your constituents, you had better speak now. Once you approve this project, you are approving 108,000 shipments of nuclear waste through your districts for 38 years.

An honest evaluation of the Yucca Mountain Project demonstrates that the benefits simply don't match the risks. Yucca does nothing to alleviate on-site storage problems. It creates additional national security concerns with every truck, rail and barge shipment.

This hearing is the last chance we have to question why we are putting our constituents at risk by transporting "mobile Chernobyl's" through their backyards. Transportation is the heart of the DOE's Yucca Mountain plan. If we can't move the waste safely, than we shouldn't move it at all. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined that nuclear waste can be safely stored where it is right now for at least 100 years. We have two choices. We can reject this proposal now, and safely secure the waste where it is currently located while our nation's best scientists find a workable long term solution; Or, we can deal with the problem later, when we are cleaning up a nuclear catastrophe and trying to explain to our constituents how we let this happen.