Note: This article was originally published in the April 2002 issue of Democratic Energy.
In a classic battle of state vs. Federal authority, Nevada faces country-wide opposition in its fight to prevent the nation’s nuclear waste from being shipped to a mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Nevada has no nuclear reactors but will be home to radioactive wastes from the 31 states that do. Thirty-one states translates into 62 votes in the Senate, so Nevada faces an uphill struggle even if some of those Senators support its position.
In mid-February, President Bush made the underground storage site at Yucca Mountain his choice for storing the nation’s nuclear waste. On April 8th, Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn formally issued his “notice of disapproval” declaring “the project is scientifically flawed, fails to conform to numerous laws, and the policy behind it is ever changing and nonsensical.”
With his filing, Guinn became the first Governor to veto a President. The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act gave him this legal right. Guinn’s letter sent the issue to Congress which can override the Nevada veto on a simple majority vote in both houses. If both the House and Senate override Guinn’s veto, the Energy Department will proceed by seeking approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and license the site as a burial ground for 77,000 tons of the nation’s highly radioactive nuclear waste.
Nevada’s lawmakers and environmentalists argue that Yucca Mountain’s geology is unsuitable for burying such dangerous, long-lived material. They also argue that shipping nuclear waste thousands of miles across the country through hundreds of communities poses serious threats to national security. Proponents of the repository at Yucca Mountain argue that a centralized repository will be more economical and provide more security then leaving waste scattered across the country at nuclear power reactors.
For an excellent technical justification for storing nuclear wastes on-site until a more appropriate long term solution is found, see the May 1999 “Plan for Management of Highly Radioactive Waste” by Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (on-line at http://www.ieer.org/sdafiles/vol_7/7-3/)
Congress has 90 days to override Nevada’s veto.