HARWICH, Mass. — A bill reviving plans to ship thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste thousands of miles by road, rail and barge may come up for a vote in the House this month.
HR 3053 passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee last week, breathing new life into cancelled plans for a controversial nuclear waste repository inside Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
According to Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at the group Beyond Nuclear, the plan environmentalists have dubbed “mobile Chernobyl” would send spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors through 100 major cities in 44 states and 370 congressional districts.
“Many of them served by members who voted in favor of this thing,” Kamps said. “And the risks are great of accidents or attacks releasing catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity in an urban area.”
The Cape Downwinders, Sierra Club and Vermont Citizens Action Network are part of a coalition of fifty environmental groups that signed a letter sent to the House Energy Committee in opposition to HR 3053. The federal government is legally responsible for finding permanent storage for nuclear waste.
Besides the hazards of transporting the waste, the Yucca Mountain site violates treaties with Native Americans and is prone to earthquakes. And, Kamps notes that initially, the Environmental Protection Agency had wanted to cut off safety regulations on the site after only 10,000 years.
“In 2008, EPA came out with new standards for Yucca that recognized a million years of hazard,” he said. “It’s still a huge downplaying of the longevity of these wastes, but it’s better than 10,000 years.”
Kamps said they recommend moving spent nuclear fuel out of dangerous storage pools and into hardened dry storage casks at or close to reactor sites.
“We’ve got to do that anyway because the Department of Energy has predicted that they can’t open a repository in this country until mid-century,” Kamps said. “So that’s decades of on-site storage continuing.”
He added that a critical step would be to shut down the reactors and stop making more waste.