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Posts Tagged ‘BRC’

DOE Yucca Mountain Blue Ribbon Commission Issues Report ‘What We’ve Heard’

Friday, March 25th, 2011


Thursday, July 15th, 2010

"Boy oh boy, what a mess we created making those bombs.  Now we have to fix it up," the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune reported that commission member and former New Mexico senator Pete Domenici said after a commission tour of Hanford.

By Steve Hedges
Washington State will use a visit by the President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of nuclear waste Thursday to press the Administration to halt its effort to shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, telling the commission that Yucca is the only viable option available “after 28 years of science.”

In prepared remarks made available early Thursday, Washington’s attorney general states, “To ensure the timely availability of a repository for high-level radioactive waste, the Blue Ribbon Commission must include the Yucca Mountain facility as one of the alternatives it examines.

“Decades of delay means decades more delay in achieving cleanup of our environment, all the while exposing the citizens of Washington State and our environment to the risk of further leaks and releases.”

Closing Yucca Mountain, Washington state argued, would also mean disrupting construction of a $12.3 billion waste treatment that is being built at Hanford to prepare radioactive waste from government weapons programs for storage at Yucca.

In the statement to be read by Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Sue Wilson for Attorney General Rob McKenna, Washington state also argues that the U.S. Department of Energy, “must not abandon its application to license the Yucca Mountain facility, so that it remains an option for the national repository for high-level radioactive waste.

“Finally, as to Attorney General’s request of the Commission: At this juncture, there is only one legal process in place for developing a geologic repository – that provided by the current NWPA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act). And, under the NWPA, there is only one entity that may take Yucca Mountain off the table – and that is Congress.

“The convening of a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine alternatives to Yucca Mountain and recommend possible amendments to the NWPA cannot substitute for a process already provided by law.”

The comments were part of a two-day visit to Hanford, Washington by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group established by the administration to explore alternatives to Yucca for nuclear waste storage.

Though Congress determined in 1987 that Yucca Mountain, Nevada should be used as a deep-storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste, the Obama administration and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate majority leader, oppose the use of Yucca and have moved to block its construction.

The administration has cut off Yucca funding and its Department of Energy attempted last spring to withdraw the license for Yucca from consideration before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

However, a three-person licensing board within the NRC ruled in June that DOE does not that authority to withdraw the license, since the selection of the Yucca site was determined by Congress. Currently, nuclear waste is stored at reactor and government sites around the country.

In Washington state’s case, that means tons of waste is kept at Hanford, which produced plutonium for nuclear weapons until 1989.

Washington, South Carolina, the counties of Aiken, S.C. and White Pine, Nev., and a group of utility commissioners have taken legal action to stop efforts to shut Yucca down. They have filed suit against the government in federal court and have filed motions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has said that it will now rule on Yucca’s viability.

On Wednesday, the Blue Ribbon Commission heard from several Native American representatives and other local leaders and environmentalists about the impact of keeping waste stored at Hanford instead of moving it to Yucca.

Those speakers noted the dangers of storage at Hanford, and how leaks in containers might pollute the Columbia River and local groundwater and soil for thousands of years.

As reported by the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune, “Taking Yucca Mountain off the table has disrupted a nationwide ‘ecosystem’ for dealing with nuclear waste, said Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council.

“If high-level waste doesn’t go to Nevada, then why should New Mexico continue to be home to a national repository for plutonium-contaminated waste, why should Idaho take nuclear Navy waste and why should Hanford be considered for disposal of mixed low-level radioactive waste? he asked.

“ ‘These are just three examples of what we believe has turned into a political house of cards,’ he said.”

Echoing the complaints about the Obama-Reid efforts to close Yucca, Brooklyn Baptiste of the Nez Perce tribe told the commission, "Science always seems to be topped by politics in the end.”

"Boy oh boy, what a mess we created making those bombs," said former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a Blue Ribbon Commission member. "Now we have to fix it up."

In his written testimony, McKenna stated, “The environmental legacy at the Hanford site includes approximately 2,300 tons (2,100 metric tons) of spent nuclear fuel; 9 tons (8 metric tons) of plutonium in various forms; about 25 million cubic feet (750,000 cubic meters) of buried or stored solid waste; groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread out over about 80 square miles (208 square kilometers); more than 1,700 waste sites; about 500 contaminated facilities; and more than 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemically hazardous waste in 177 underground storage tanks.”

McKenna and several of the other speakers noted that there are 177 underground tanks holding waste at Hanford, and that 149 of those tanks are, “single-shell tanks” (SSTs) that do not comply with applicable hazardous waste tank standards.”

“The average tank is now 42 years past its expected 25-year design life,” Mckenna stated. “All 149 SSTs have been declared “unfit for use” by DOE under Washington’s Hazardous Waste Management Act (HWMA) and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Of these 149 tanks 67, or more than one-third, are “known or suspected leakers” that have together released approximately 1 million gallons of waste to Hanford’s surrounding soils.”

To deal with those leaks, DOE is building a $12.3 billion waste treatment plant that is closely tied to Yucca’s operation, McKenna said. The plant will process the waste into vitrified logs that will be stored for years.

“The WTP was designed and is being constructed to satisfy performance standards specific to the Yucca Mountain facility,” McKenna argued. “Through a series of references, DOE’s contract for design, engineering, and construction of the WTP requires that the facility be designed and built to produce a product that satisfies waste acceptance standards specific to the Yucca Mountain repository.”