United States House of Representatives

The Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-2927

Testimony of Shelley Berkley
U.S. Representative, Nevada

April 18, 2002

I would like to thank chairman Barton and Ranking Member Boucher for offering me the opportunity to testify today.

Let me begin by expressing the outrage felt throughout Nevada about this ill-advised project. Over 83% of the people I represent vehemently oppose Yucca Mountain. We don't want the dump, and our country does not need this dump. Yucca mountain is not the solution to what is the problem of disposal of the bi-product of nuclear energy....nuclear waste.

There is a myth that the approval of Yucca Mountain as a high-level nuclear waste repository will solve the problems of on-site storage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yucca mountain's former acting director lake Barrett recently testified that nuclear waste will always be stored at, or near, reactor sites. The U.S. currently produces 2,000 tons of nuclear waste a year. By the time a repository opened (somewhere between 2010 and 2016) there will be 62,000 tons of nuclear waste stored at on-site reactors around the country. The maximum amount of transport per year will be 3,000 tons. At sites where waste is produced, there will be as much waste there 50 years from now as there is today.

The claims that Yucca Mountain reduces the threat of terrorism by eliminating waste at 131 sites in favor of one site is completely untrue. Yucca mountain will not reduce the threat of terrorism at operating reactors. It adds one more site to protect.

The real dirty secret that the DOE has tried desperately to ignore is the immense vulnerability of nuclear waste transports. Of the 33 members of this committee, the DOE plan calls for transport of nuclear waste through 30 of your districts. According to the DOE, Ohio will have more then 12,000 shipments, with 13 of the 19 congressional districts affected. According to experts who have analyzed the DOE's transportation data, more than 123 million people live in the 703 counties traversed by doe's proposed highway routes, and 106 million live in counties along doe's rail routes. DOE predicts that between 10 and 16 million people will live within just one-half mile of a transportation route in 2035. Given the frequency of these shipments, even routine radiation from the 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 -- roughly 16 millions Americans who own homes, and go to school, and go to houses of worship in the communities immediately alongside the routes.

Of even greater concern is the threat of an accident -- or even worse, a terrorist attack. If Yucca Mountain is approved there could be more then 108,000 cross-country truck shipments of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste over 38 years. There will be between 957 and 2,855 shipments per year over 38 years, depending on whether and how much rail access is developed. For comparison, over the past 40 years, there have been less than 100 shipments per year in the united states.

A terrorist attack or accident would release radioactive materials from the cask that would prove disastrous to the environment and human health, and cost billions of dollars to try to clean up. The DOE acknowledges in the environmental impact statement that we can expect anywhere from 50 to over 300 accidents. Additionally, two separate tests, one done at Sandier National Laboratory and the other at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, demonstrate that readily available munitions can breach a nuclear waste canister. Currently, casks are only licensed through a combination of scale-model testing and computer simulations. Do we really think it is good policy to ship 108,500 shipments in casks that have never actually been tested?

According to independent studies, the risks of transportation could result in massive economic costs for communities along transportation routes. Even without an accident or incident, property values near routes could decline by 3% or more. And in the event of an accident or terrorist attack, residential property values along shipping routes could decline between 8% and 34%, depending upon the severity of the accident.

The DOE does not publicize the transportation routes or the transportation problems related with the project because they know that if members know how much waste is going to be transported through their districts, we would be more likely to oppose the project. More significant, when our constituents find out that they live along the transportation routes, they will demand that we oppose this project. Make no mistake about it, this is our last chance to vote on the Yucca Mountain issue. If we learn a few years from now that our district is a transportation hub, our hands are tied. We will not be able to unring this bell.

An honest evaluation of the Yucca Mountain project suggests that the rewards simply don't match the risks. Yucca does nothing to alleviate the on-site storage problems across the country, and created a tremendous amount of concern for national security.

The projected cost of this boondoggle is any where from $56 billion to $309 billion. The nuclear waste fund has $11 billion. How are we going to pay for this? Raise taxes? Dip into the social security trust fund? And once Yucca Mountain is full, what then do we do? After spending hundreds of billions of dollars we will still be exactly where we are today.

A recent GAO report concluded that there are 293 unfinished scientific and technical studies that cannot be concluded until 2006. The nuclear waste technical review board, a congressionally mandated scientific oversight board said, "when the doe's technical and scientific work is taken as a whole, the board's view is that the technical basis for the doe's repository performance estimates is weak to moderate." and that because of "gaps in data and basic understanding...the board has limited confidence in current performance estimates generated by the doe's performance assessment model"

As early as 1987, representative Morris Udall, one of the main architects of the original 1982 nuclear waste policy act said, "the public and many of us in congress have lost all faith in the integrity of the process." that was the case in 1987, and it remains the case today. Yucca mountain is a political solution to a problem that requires real science. We should empower our nation's scientific community to find real solutions to this serious problem, and give them the resources and political freedom they need to discover the safest, most effective way of solving our nuclear dilemma.

Nevadans were promised that sound science and not politics would drive this process. Sound science? While 293 scientific studies have not been concluded? Sound science? When we still can't guarantee the safe transport of nuclear waste? Sound science? When the canisters needed to transport the nuclear waste have yet to be invented?

I ask you to join the state of Nevada and vote to protect your own constituents by opposing Yucca Mountain.