To: "Senator Harry Reid" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Your comments about "dry cask storage" published today in TRUTHOUT
Cc: "Rep. Jim Gibbons" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, California Senators, governor of California, "truthout" <email@example.com>
Date: January 25th, 2002
To: Senator Harry Reid, Chairman, Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee
From: Russell Hoffman, Concerned Citizen, Carlsbad, CA
Re: Your comments about "dry cask storage" published today in TRUTHOUT
Dear Senator Reid,
I understand and agree with your opposition to the Yucca Mountain Project for High-Level Radioactive Waste storage in America. I agree with your concerns that the current administration's enthusiasm for Yucca Mountain is not grounded in science (I believe it is grounded in ignorance). I'm glad that you are investigating the DOE's failure to solve the nuclear waste storage problem.
However, I disagree with your statement:
"The best option is to leave the nuclear waste in dry cask storage containers on-site."
Dry cask storage on-site is a terrible idea. America would need about 1,500 of your so-called "best option" -- dry storage casks -- if we emptied all the spent fuel pools, and a lot more if we also emptied all the reactors too (we should empty them -- and NOT refill them!) And if we don't close down the reactors, every couple of days we will need another storage cask somewhere.
Nuclear power operates at a loss to the public, every day. Every day, 10,000 more pounds of High Level Nuclear Waste is created -- and it's all destined for Yucca Mountain unless you Nevadans stop it (maybe I'll stop it -- I'll certainly continue to try -- or maybe Superman will stop it, but if I were you I wouldn't count on either one of us to succeed).
America has to get off the nuclear juggernaut. Every day we wait, we become more vulnerable to a catastrophic Dry Cask accident.
Your comment strongly implies that the nuclear waste inside of a dry cask cannot be set loose into the environment. That's preposterous. Look at the Dry Cask Storage area for Calvert Cliffs, for instance (a photo appears in the Yucca Mountain documentation). Any airplane might crash into it -- the same is true at all these nuclear sites. At the very least, we should move the waste away from the population centers -- once -- after we shut down the plants.
Where should we put it "permanently"? I considered that issue as well, and came to the same conclusion the Yucca Mountain people came to, with one exception.
Recall that they looked at every other idea to see if it made more sense than Yucca Mountain. They considered rocketing the waste to the sun, but the failure rates of today's rockets make that impractical (NASA still does it anyway, but calls the rockets "deep space probes"). (Believe it or not, some rocket scientists still adhere to the idea of using the sun as a disposal site for our nuclear waste!)
Besides rocketing the waste away so we wouldn't ever have to worry about it again, the Yucca Mountain Project team also considered deep sea burial, plate tectonic burial, and many other things. Yucca Mountain was still their recommendation.
It is not mine. I believe the waste must be stored in a retrievable system away from population centers, but before any decision can possibly be made fairly and permanently as to what to do with the waste, we need to stop making more of it. Turn off the spigot, as Suzi Snyder put it at one of the hearings I attended in Nevada last year.
Every nuclear power plant has to be located near a major body of water, because they constantly cycle millions of gallons of water a minute through the plant. The nearby body of water has a technical term in the industry -- it's call an "ultimate heat sink".
If a catastrophic accident occurs, for plants whose "ultimate heat sink" is a river, everything downstream will be contaminated. For some plants, thousands of miles of America's rivers are downstream before a large body of water is reached. For plants on the coasts of the planet's great oceans, the beaches for scores of miles around will become permanently polluted. And, the Great Lakes all filter though the St. Lawrence Seaway.
There is no minimum radiation dose at which cancers, leukemias, and birth defects do not show up in some people who receive a particular dose. There is no lessening of the symptoms as the dose goes down, only a lessening of the rate in a population of these awful "symptoms". Concurrently, as the rate goes down, the ability to prove precisely who the culprit is goes down as well. But that hardly means there is no culprit! There is no "threshold" below which a tiny explosion inside your body is safe. And that's what a nuclear decay is -- a tiny grenade, or land mine, in miniature. Small enough to go unnoticed by your five senses (we need delicate equipment to detect these "explosions"), but large enough to whack the hell out of your body's living cells.
Nuclear radiation is dangerous at all levels, and uranium fuel rods on the way into a reactor are millions of times less radioactive than when they come out. After the fuel rods come out of the reactor, they continue to fester for thousands of human generations, creating over 200 isotopes of this, that, and the other radioactive thing -- very little of it of any use except for making "dirty bombs", and some quite useful (in fact, a vital ingredient) for making nuclear bombs. Why do we make this stuff, day in and day out?
For electrons in wires, which were never "too cheap to meter" (as the nuclear industry originally promised (along with promising there was a solution to the waste problem)).
We can get the electrons pushed into the wires some other way. Wind energy is particularly cheap right now, and will only get cheaper. Nuclear will only get more expensive, as the waste piles up. Also, there are solar, biomass, geothermal, and water-based systems like wave, tide, and hydro.
Please visit my web site and join the renewable energy bandwagon, and help America turn away from the nuclear nightmare. Various associated URLs and my complete contact information appear below your interview and letter to President Bush.
As a Senator from a state without any commercial nuclear power plants, perhaps you haven't looked into the matter sufficiently. But when you state that "Nevadans have a very strong sense of patriotism", I'd sure like to know where your concern is for those who must live near the every-growing piles of nuclear waste.
I would be happy to answer any additional questions you or your staff might have, on or off the record, under oath preferably, in secret if it has to be, in a public forum on live television if it must be -- whatever works for you. Can I bring my collection of experts? I know a few and they're getting old. Many are in their 80s.
Thank you in advance for your time.
Russell D. Hoffman
t r u t h o u t | Jennifer Van Bergen
Nevada Senator Harry Reid
January 25, 2002
Editor's Note | Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recently approved the use of Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the nation's nuclear waste dump. If the approval goes through, an estimated 77,000 tons of nuclear waste will be transported to the site from various sites across the nation for an undetermined period of time, and deposited deep into the ground under Yucca Mountain. Senator Reid speaks out. His letter to Bush on Yucca Mt. follows the interview.
TO/Reid Interview :
JVB/TO : Will this nuclear waste dump be a danger to people in Nevada?
SEN. REID : The nuclear waste dump poses not only a risk to people in Nevada but across the entire nation. Nuclear waste, one of the most dangerous substances known to man, will be transported across our nation's railways and roadway through thousands of communities, endangering everyone in its path.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has refused to release the specific routes of the nuclear waste shipments. The DOE has also refused to do any kind of Environmental Impact Study. So, we really have no idea just how dangerous the proposed nuclear waste dump would be.
JVB/TO : Nevadans already suffer from a higher rate of leukemia and cancer in some areas where nuclear testing was done or from jet fumes from Nellis Air Force base. Is a nuclear waste dump under Yucca Mt. going to put Nevadans through more suffering?
SEN. REID : Nevadans have a very strong sense of patriotism and long history of serving this nation. The Nevada Test Site was key to helping the United States win the Cold War. I have recommended that the Test Site continue to serve the country as the nation's counter-terrorism training center. We don't know what kind of suffering Yucca Mountain could cause. A nuclear repository may damage the travel and tourism industry in Nevada and could threaten the groundwater supply of local communities.
JVB/TO : What's at stake here? Is this about homeland security? Are we talking about harming the environment? Or are we talking about human lives?
SEN. REID : What's at stake here is a possibly catastrophic and unimaginable accident as 77,000 tons of nuclear waste is transported across the country over a period of decades. We're talking about Nevadans being asked to serve as the nation's nuclear garbage dump with no assurance that they will be protected. The best option is to leave the nuclear waste in dry cask storage containers on-site.
JVB/TO : Can the Administration force Nevada to take america's nuclear waste? Will this go through despite 80% opposition by Nevadans?
SEN. REID : As the law is written, the Adminstration can force Nevada to take the waste. Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has indicated he will recommend Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear waste repository. It will then be up to President Bush to decide whether or not he will support the recommendation.
If he decides to go ahead and approve Yucca Mountain as the repository, the state of Nevada has the opportunity to veto his recommendation. At that point, the United States Congress would vote to either sustain or override Nevada's veto. Both houses must override the veto by a one-vote majority in order for Yucca Mountain to move forward.
During the campaign, the President stated that he would let sound science prevail in the designation of any high-level nuclear waste repository. The findings of a recent federal investigation have uncovered serious flaws in the Yucca Mountain project. The General Accounting Office (GAO) report "Nuclear Waste - Technical, Schedule and Cost Uncertainties of the Yucca Mountain Repository Project" boldly states that the Department of Energy (DOE) is using incomplete information as a basis for their Yucca Mountain site recommendation, and has no reliable estimate of when, and at what cost, such a repository could be opened.
We are relying on President Bush to be a man of his word. The research that must be used to make a recommendation has not been completed.
JVB/TO : Senator, you have fought using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site from day one. What challenges have you faced. And specifically from whom?
SEN. REID : The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear power industry, has millions of dollars at it's disposal to promote the Yucca Mountain site.
Additionally, there are many members of Congress who are unfamiliar with the situation and a current administration that is not only supportive of the nuclear power industry, but actively promotes nuclear energy. However, people are finally listening to what we've been saying for decades. That this site is not safe and transporting the waste will endanger millions of Americans.
We also have multiple federal investigations that report serious mismanagement, conflict of interest, and incomplete research in regards to the Yucca Mountain project.
[Letter from Senator Reid To George W. Bush]
January 11, 2002
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Bush:
I am writing in regard to the pending recommendation of the Yucca Mountain site as a repository for high-level nuclear waste. The Secretary informed Governor Guinn today that he will recommend the site to you in 30 days. I urge you to ask Secretary Abraham to reconsider his decision. Recent reports from the Department of Energy's Inspector General (IG) and the General Accounting Office (GAO) raise serious questions about the scientific, managerial and ethical conduct of the Department of Energy in the investigation of the Yucca Mountain site. As Chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, I intend to hold hearings to investigate fully the implications of these reports. Any information gathered from these hearings should be considered as part of the recommendation process.
In a December 4, 2001 letter, I brought these problems to your attention. After sending that letter, the General Accounting Office issued their final report in which they found that:
1. It would be "imprudent and impractical" for the DOE to make a site recommendation because it lacks the technical information needed for a recommendation and a license application, including the results of nearly 300 scientific studies;
2. The DOE is unlikely to achieve its goal of opening a repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010; and
3. The DOE has no reliable estimate of when, nor at what cost, such a repository could be opened.
Unfortunately, the DOE has failed to seriously address the findings in this report and the findings in the Inspector General report, which I also described to you in the December letter.
Congress established the General Accounting Office and the Inspector Generals to provide an independent oversight of the federal agencies. The reports they developed were based on impartial and thorough investigations of the Yucca Mountain project. Unfortunately, the Department of Energy has chosen to ignore their conclusions, because they clearly indicate the failure of the Yucca Mountain project. As the person responsible for the final decision on Yucca Mountain, I urge you to ask the Secretary to postpone his recommendation until the implications of the GAO report and IG report are fully investigated. The Secretary has a responsibility to provide you with the most accurate and comprehensive understanding of the project. Ignoring the implications of these reports, appears to represent a significant failure to fulfill that duty. I also urge you to initiate a full investigation of the legal conflict of interest charges raised by the IG report, including an independent scientific review of possible bias in the program from the conflict of interest.
The American people, and Nevadans especially, deserve a fair and thorough accounting of how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. More than $8 billion has already been wasted trying to study a proposed repository. More than $60 billion would be spent, if the project were to continue. The stakes for the American people are too high for the Secretary of Energy to ignore the evidence of the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General.
As you know, however, the Secretary's decision is only the first step in making a recommendation. The final decision rests with you. During the Presidential campaign you promised Nevadans that a decision to recommend the site would be based on sound science. I fail too understand how the Secretary's decision can be based on sound science when so many studies remain to be completed. I am confident that as you review the evidence you will recognize that the science does not support a recommendation at this time.
There is still ample opportunity to reverse the flawed decision by the Secretary to recommend the site. By doing so, you will fulfill your campaign promises to Nevadans to demand that science - not politics - dictates the timing and content of a recommendation on Yucca Mountain. With the known scientific and technical flaws, Yucca Mountain will never meet all the requirements for licensing. Continuing to support such a fatally flawed project does the nation a disservice by wasting hundreds of billions of dollars without moving any closer to a legitimate solution to storing our nation's high-level nuclear waste.
If you have any questions about this request, please contact me. I appreciate your consideration of my views and look forward to hearing from you.
United States Senator