Rep. Wilson testifies in support of revisiting Yucca nuclear site

April 27, 2017

Reopening the shuttered Yucca Mountain nuclear repository is a necessary step to find permanent solutions to where the nation stores its nuclear waste, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., testified during a hearing Wednesday.

One environmental group disagrees, calling Yucca “radioactive racism” in a news release that goes on to say reopening the site would negatively impact nearby populations of Native Americans, Mormons and other groups.

Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Wilson’s testimony was one of several statements offered concerning the proposed Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, according to legislative records.

“Today, there are currently 121 communities across 39 states that are grappling with the limitations of storing nuclear waste while our country lacks a permanent geological repository,” Wilson said. “Each of the 121 communities has been forced to store nuclear waste while they wait for the federal government to honor its promise by providing permanent storage at Yucca Mountain.”

One of those 121 communities is the Savannah River Site in Aiken County. Reopening Yucca is seen as another avenue for disposing of nuclear waste, Yucca supporters say.

Kevin Kamps, with the nuclear watchdog group Beyond Nuclear, released a lengthy prepared statement contesting any plan to reopen Yucca.

Beyond Nuclear is among the environmental groups that sued the U.S Department of Energy over liquid waste shipments from Canada to SRS. A judge recently sided with the DOE.

In his statement, Kamps said reopening Yucca is tantamount to “radioactive racism.” He said it would potentially cause dire environmental consequences, noting the area is seismically and possibly volcanically active.

“The combination of underground water saturation, rock chemistry and the waste’s thermal heat would create the perfect storm, corroding burial containers and releasing radioactive waste into groundwater in a relatively short matter of time,” the statement said.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the House committee, said Yucca would assist SRS in its efforts to dispose of radioactive waste.

“The federal government, on behalf of all Americans, has both a fiscal and moral responsibility to expedite the environmental cleanup of facilities like the Savannah River Site,” Shimkus said.

First approved in 2002, Yucca has seen little to no progress.

A license application was sent to the National Regulatory Commission in 2008, but the president’s proposed 2011 budget announced the discontinuing of Yucca, according to legislative documents.

An April 24 memo to Energy and Commerce Committee members states the Yucca application technically hasn’t been withdrawn, though the U.S. DOE ceased efforts to further it.

“In the meantime, the NRC completed its technical review of the DOE license application, issuing Safety Evaluation Report determinations in 2014 and 2015,” the memo states. “While the license is still pending before the Commission, this independent NRC technical and scientific review found the site would meet all safety regulations for the required one-million-year timeframe.”