By AUDREY BARNEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — With nuclear waste piling up in Michigan and across the nation, hopes for a federal repository in Nevada are still up in the air.
Last month, President Bush recommended Yucca Mountain as a suitable site. Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison and the American Nuclear Society applauded his decision and are crossing their fingers hoping that the plan will not be scuttled.
“If Yucca Mountain is not approved now, there is no alternate plan,” said William T. McCormick Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Consumers Energy.
A 1982 federal law mandated that the government move the spent fuel to a single storage site by 1998 — but it still hasn’t been authorized. Instead, companies across the nation have been forced to create their own storage sites and charge their customers to maintain them.
“It is not in the best interests of Michigan or the nation to permanently store spent nuclear fuel at temporary locations in 39 states when one federal repository can do the job,” McCormick said.
Nuclear waste is currently being stored at four Michigan plants, including Detroit Edison’s Fermi 2 plant near Monroe. Consumers Energy stores nuclear waste near the shore of Lake Michigan at its Palisades plant near South Haven.
McCormick thinks that the Yucca Mountain project has been dragged out too long.
“It’s time to end the political debate and face the facts. The federal government has spent 20 years and $4 billion researching Yucca Mountain. Its suitability is beyond question,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nevada, is displeased with the president’s recommendation and the state of Nevada has until April 15 to reject it.
“Nevada does not produce nuclear power and we therefore feel strongly that we should not be made the nuclear garbage dump for the rest of the country,” she said.
Berkley introduced a bill last November that implies that Yucca Mountain could become a prime target for terrorists if the repository is placed there.
The bill states that: “At almost every stage of the Yucca Mountain Project, high-level radioactive nuclear waste would be very vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Terrorists could attack or steal the waste as it travels on our roads, highways, railways or waterways, as it is stored or moved at intermodal storage facilities, storage depots or at the proposed repository itself.”
Charles MacInnis, director of news and information at Consumers Energy, said his company has a long history of safe transportation of new fuel and spent fuel.
“The stainless steel casks that carry the fuel have undergone thorough testing and have been proven safe by many standards. We have transported fuel for years with no problems,” MacInnis said.
He also said that Yucca Mountain provides a new level of safety for the nation because it will be the sole site for containing nuclear waste that is currently spread across the United States at 131 locations in 39 states.
Nevada officials strongly oppose using the mountain as the federal repository site and are expected to veto the bill. If Nevada officials rejects the president’s decision, both houses of Congress must vote to override the state’s veto. Without a congressional override, development of Yucca Mountain will end.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By AUDREY BARNEY