For years, environmentalists, the nuclear industry, presidential administrations and Congress have battled over how to establish a system to dispose of high-level nuclear waste. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which required the Department of Energy (DOE) to open a permanent underground repository for high-level nuclear waste by 1998. The law established a ìNuclear Waste Fundî to collect fees on commercial nuclear power to finance a permanent storage facility. Despite this funding, efforts to find a suitable site have been delayed by lawsuits, environmental challenges, problems with DOE and resistance by states being considered for possible sites. No permanent solution to safe disposal of high-level nuclear waste has yet been found.

In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to focus on Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the best site to bury up to 70,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste. Today, scientists are still studying whether the site is suitable.

Yucca Mountain opponents argue that the site is an unfit place for nuclear waste storage, noting that Nevada ranks third in the nation for earthquake activity. In addition, they cite a 1997 study that found evidence of rainwater seepage at Yucca Mountain, raising concerns about potential groundwater contamination. Other concerns revolve around transporting the waste from nuclear power plants to the Yucca Mountain site. The waste would move through 43 states via rail and truck over a 30 year-period with 300 to 500 shipments a year.

Clearly, the current storage system is dangerous and inadequate to meet future nuclear storage needs. Currently over 42,000 tons of waste is stored in 41 states in large on-site pools of water. The industry contends that some of these storage pools are almost full.The Department of Energy must make a recommendation about Yucca Mountainís potential as a permanent site by 2001. If the site is found to be a suitable location a license application will be made in 2002, construction would begin in 2005 and the waste would be moved to the facility starting in 2010.

Until a suitable, permanent location is found, the DOE, Congress and the nuclear utilities have been researching possible areas to serve as an interim nuclear waste storage site. Since 1994, Congress has introduced bills each legislative session to dump nuclear waste in a temporary above ground site at Yucca Mountain. However, these bills continue to be met with opposition from environmentalists, the Clinton administration and particularly the Nevada congressional delegation. Critics of the bills cite the risk of transport accidents en route to Yucca Mountain as a major reason for their opposition.

For more information on nuclear waste issues and what you can do to help, check out these Web sites:



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© 2000-2018, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund