Beyond Nuclear Response to Court Ruling on Nuclear Waste Confidence

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Beyond Nuclear, (240) 462-3216, kevin@beyondnuclear.org

Beyond Nuclear Response to Court Ruling on Nuclear Waste Confidence

Media Statement by Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear’s Radioactive Waste Watchdog, in Response to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Panel Ruling in New York v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission II,

the Nuclear Waste Confidence Lawsuit:

“We are sorely disappointed by Friday’s ruling. The court did not seem to understand the very sound and forceful arguments our coalition of environmental organizations was making. Our lawyers are reviewing Friday’s decision. We have options for moving ahead, and we expect a recommendation from our lawyers shortly about next steps. Suffice it for now to say, we will continue our efforts to demand the government address the very serious environmental risks posed by atomic reactor operation and highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel generation.

Irradiated nuclear fuel remains hazardous for a million years, as acknowledged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its Yucca Mountain dump regulations. Exposure to highly radioactive nuclear waste, even decades after removal from an operating reactor core, at close range and with no radiation shielding, can deliver a fatal dose of gamma radiation in just minutes.

The timing of the court’s ruling is ironic. Just a couple weeks ago, a National Academies of Sciences (NAS) ‘Fukushima Lessons Learned’ panel reported that high-level radioactive waste storage pools in the U.S. are at high-risk of catastrophic fires, whether due to accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack. In fact, such a mega-catastrophe was very narrowly avoided at Fukushima Daiichi, by sheer luck, the NAS panel reported.

These findings affirm a 2004 NAS report, prompted by the 9/11 attacks (the 2004 report was classified; a redacted public version was made available in 2006, but only after extended interference by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC). Despite the alarming findings and urgent recommendations of these NAS reports, the NRC has taken little to no action to address the risks.

Just days after the recent NAS report was published, Princeton researchers, Drs. Frank von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, using state-of-the-art meteorological computer modeling, confirmed that an American irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fire could release such catastrophic amounts of hazardous cesium-137, that it would dwarf the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe by comparison.

These are the very kinds of warnings our environmental coalition’s expert witness, Dr. Gordon Thompson of Institute for Resource and Security Studies, has made throughout this entire Nuclear Waste Confidence proceeding. In fact, Dr. Thompson co-authored a cutting edge January 2003 study on pool fire risks, by Alvarez et al. (including Von Hippel), which played a key role in prompting the 2004 NAS study in the first place.

Robert Alvarez emphasized this warning about pool fire risks in a May 2011 report, published in the aftermath of the beginning of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

At standing room only hearings held across the country in 2013, countless hundreds of concerned citizens echoed these warnings, during NRC’s Nuclear Waste Confidence Environmental Impact Statement public comment period. NRC consistently ignoring such repeated warnings imperils us all.

Another co-author of the 2003 Alvarez et al. report, Dr. Allison Macfarlane, later served as NRC Chairman, from 2012 to 2014. Not only did Chairman Macfarlane vote for the expedited transfer of irradiated nuclear fuel, from pools to dry casks, as a needed safety and security upgrade; she also warned, in her Nuclear Waste Confidence vote itself, that institutional control over interim high-level radioactive waste surface storage facilities will eventually be lost over time, by definition.

In fact, that is an essential reason deep geologic disposal is the international scientific and policy consensus for long-term high-level radioactive waste management and isolation from the environment. Both NRC and even the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed dumpsite at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (February 2002), have acknowledged that loss of institutional control at high-level radioactive waste surface storage facilities would result in catastrophic releases of hazardous radioactivity. 

It is very troubling that NRC has simply assumed that institutional control can be maintained at surface storage facilities forevermore, and that the court has endorsed such dangerously false confidence and high-risk technological hubris.

Beyond Nuclear repeats its call for the generation of high-level radioactive waste to be stopped. Dirty, dangerous and expensive nuclear power must be phased out, as soon as possible, and replaced with clean, safe, and affordable energy efficiency and renewable sources of electricity, such as wind and solar power.

The announcements of impending closure dates for several atomic reactors in recent days and weeks – Fort Calhoun, NE by the end of this year, Clinton, IL by mid-2018, and Quad Cities 1 and 2, IL by mid-2018 – is most welcome news. The end of reactor operations marks the end of high-level radioactive waste generation. Not making irradiated fuel in the first place, is the only truly safe, sound solution.

For the nearly 75,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel that has been generated in the U.S. since 1957, Beyond Nuclear joins with many hundreds of environmental groups nationwide, representing every state, in calling for Hardened On-Site Storage as an alternative to high-risk pool storage, to high-risk transport to centralized interim storage sites, as well as to scientifically unsuitable, non-consent-based deep geologic repositories, as at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

As Beyond Nuclear founding board member, Dr. Judith Johnsrud (1931-2014) of the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power in State College, Pennsylvania, put it, radioactive waste may well be a “trans-solutional” problem, a problem we have created that is beyond our technological ability to solve.

And as Beyond Nuclear board member, Kay Drey of St. Louis, Missouri, has put it, we now have a mountain of radioactive waste 74 years high, and we don’t even know what to do with the first cupful. It’s time to stop making it.

Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

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