- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Transportation and Energy Department officials tried to assure Congress yesterday that shipping nuclear waste to the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada would be safe.
However, Nevada's congressional delegation said the proposed shipments and underground storage of wastes in the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas were a threat to public health and safety.
"I guarantee you the people in Nevada will lie down on the rails," said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, who testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Meanwhile, the House Energy Committee overwhelmingly approved construction of the $58 billion facility.
The 41-6 vote by the committee gave a strong endorsement to President Bush's policy, announced in February, of supporting storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. About 77,000 tons of nuclear waste would be stored permanently in the underground facility, beginning with shipments in 2010 and continuing for 24 years.
Some of the shipments would come from the Calvert Cliffs, Md., and North Anna, Va., nuclear power plants. The route proposed by the Department of Energy would take them through major cities including Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. They would be transported by trucks or railroad, although barges also are being considered.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission told The Washington Times earlier this week that it is re-evaluating its security arrangements, including routes for the waste shipments.
The full House is expected to vote on the proposal within two weeks. The measure has strong support in the Republican-led House but more skeptics in the Democrat-led Senate.
Under a 1982 law, governors can veto the president's plans to store the wastes in their states. However, the veto can be overriden by majority vote of both the House and Senate.
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed on April 8 the Bush administration's choice of the Yucca Mountain repository.
Mr. Ensign favors storing the nuclear waste in containment casks at the 131 sites nationwide where it is produced until more durable transport casks can be designed or a better disposal alternative developed.
"We don't have the technology right now," Mr. Ensign said.
His assertions were supported by an independent study reported today in Science magazine.
"A project of this importance should not go forward until the relevant scientific issues have been thoughtfully addressed," it says.
Mr. Guinn, who also testified at the Transportation Committee hearing, said the Yucca Mountain site would be only a short-term solution to nuclear waste. By the time the nation's current nuclear waste is stored there, another 50,000 tons will have been produced, he said.
"On the day Yucca Mountain is filled to the brim, we would be right back where we started," Mr. Guinn said. "Who will be next?"
He also said terrorists present a new threat, particularly from armor-piercing missiles available on the black market that could penetrate the steel-and-lead transport casks.
Representatives from the departments of Transportation and Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the members of Congress that outrage about safety of the shipments was exaggerated.
Ellen Engleman, administrator of the Transportation Department's Research and Special Programs Administration, said, "Spent nuclear fuel has been transported safely in the United States for many years."
Lake Barrett, deputy director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said tests done on the transport casks showed they were strong enough to prevent any leaks in an accident.

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