On April 25 of this year, President Clinton vetoed the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, which would have approved the permanent nuclear waste storage facility being constructed deep under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. This election year flip-flop is only the latest example of a nonexistent Clinton-Gore energy policy. The same Department of Energy that cannot keep our nuclear secrets secret is now opposed to the operation of a facility it has spent billions of dollars over the past two decades to build.
Some Utahns cheered this decision, safe in their delusion that nuclear waste traveling the nation's rails to Yucca Mountain will not pass through Utah. Or so they thought.
Thanks to President Clinton's gift to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, nuclear waste will still travel Utah's rails but may now stop two-thirds of the way across our state to be "temporarily" stored on the reservation of the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians. As even the Deseret News has pointed out, "no state that allows such a thing should think of it as temporary, nor should it underestimate the message it would send about its own willingness to accept other's nuclear trash." But this is exactly the outcome of the "regional repositories" they recommend.
Private Fuel Storage L.L.C., a company owned by eight U.S. electric utilities, has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate a nuclear waste storage facility on the Goshute reservation. Nearly all of this waste is generated east of the Mississippi and none of it comes from Utah. This proposal is bad public policy, dangerous to our national security and the economy of Utah, fundamentally unsafe and possibly illegal. While a thorough investigation of this deal is called for, the need to find a permanent solution for their growing stockpile of nuclear waste is unquestioned. Nuclear utilities, which pay for most of the high-level waste disposal program through a fee on nuclear power, have grown increasingly concerned about the government's slower-than-planned progress on the Yucca Mountain permanent storage facility.
In a recent lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) would be liable for unspecified damages to nuclear utilities for failing to begin the removal of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors by Jan. 31, 1998, the deadline established by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Unfortunately, the court did not order DOE to begin moving the waste to its existing facilities, as utilities had urged. This ruling, combined with the president's veto of Yucca Mountain, leaves an untenable situation with desperate utility companies trying to comply with the law and weary of the public outcry when it is learned nuclear waste will continue to be stored near their cities.
Proponents of establishing a number of regional storage sites sound reasonable enough. Their plan would lessen the distance the waste must travel and leave it up to the reader to pick a perfect, fictional site far away from their home and absolutely safe. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the real world. Not only is there is no place on earth that would be absolutely 100 percent safe, but it has taken over a decade, and tens of billions of dollars, to make just one site ready to receive waste.
It is possible that those Utahns who cheered the president's veto were unaware that had he signed the Yucca Mountain bill (as promised), it would not have been necessary for Private Fuel Storage to continue its plans for a repository on the Goshute Indian reservation. However, those who continue to sustain his veto are only getting what they asked for.
James V. Hansen represents Utah's 1st District in Congress. The Republican lawmaker is a senior member of the House Resources Committee.