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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 02, 2010
Washington takes nuclear waste fight to Las Vegas

Olympia—Attorney General Rob McKenna and expert assistant attorneys general in his office this week will continue to fight the federal government’s attempt to permanently remove the nation’s only Congressionally-approved high-level nuclear waste repository from future consideration. 

“Our state currently houses millions of gallons of hazardous waste and we are prepared to treat it for safe disposal,” McKenna said. “Although much of this waste will be permanently disposed of at Hanford, Congress has selected Yucca Mountain as the nation’s repository for high-level waste. Roughly $10 billion has been spent pursuing development of this high-level waste repository to date—and billions more have been spent in Washington.

"The nation has no ready alternatives to Yucca Mountain as a repository site—and we will vigorously oppose any efforts to permanently remove this facility from consideration,” he said.

Senior Counsel Andy Fitz will present Washington’s arguments in the Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Thursday, June 3, in Las Vegas, opposing the move by the federal Department of Energy (DOE) to withdraw “with prejudice” its license application for the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository.

If successful, this move by DOE could unilaterally preclude any further consideration of that site as a nuclear waste repository.

In its petition, Washington argues that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires DOE and the NRC to undertake a licensing process for Yucca Mountain. Washington argues that under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, neither the DOE nor the NRC have the legal authority to terminate that licensing process prematurely and in a manner that forever forecloses it from being reopened.

In 2002, Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole current repository site for deep geologic disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

At that time, the Secretary of Energy concluded that, “The amount and quality of research the DOE has invested… done by top-flight people…is nothing short of staggering…I am convinced that the product of over 20 years, millions of hours, and four billion dollars of this research provides a sound scientific basis for concluding the site can perform safely.”

Congress then directed DOE to file a license application for the Yucca Mountain site with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and thereby commence a formal evaluation and licensing process overseen by the NRC.

This week’s argument before the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is the latest in the ongoing battle to protect Washington's interests and ensure that the Yucca Mountain site continues to be evaluated as Congress directed. The state is also pursuing legal action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court ordered expedited review in that case with oral argument expected in late September.

 “Washington has made its sacrifices for our country, hosting and overseeing nearly two-thirds of the nation’s defense-related radioactive waste,” McKenna said. “Millions of hours and billions of dollars have been spent to research the safe disposal of our treated waste and that of other states at the Yucca Mountain facility. DOE has yet to provide any scientific evidence sufficient to remove Yucca Mountain from consideration. It’s time for DOE to live up to its responsibility and follow the law.”

The June 3 hearing will start with arguments by the DOE and proponents of the license withdrawal. Washington and opponents to the license withdrawal will make arguments following. Both sides have been granted 2.5 hours to make their arguments. The entire proceeding will be streamed live at: http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=69198

Washington’s motion 

Background: 

  • Between 1944 and 1989, the US produced plutonium for use in nuclear weapons at the DOE’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the Tri-Cities. Washington hosts and oversees the cleanup of nearly two-thirds of the nation’s defense-related, high-level radioactive waste at Hanford.
  • Roughly 53 million gallons of nuclear waste is stored in 177 large underground tanks—of which 149 are 42 years beyond their expected 25-year design life. Of the 149 tanks, more than one-third are known or suspected to be leaking, releasing roughly 1 million gallons of waste to Hanford’s surrounding soils. Hanford lacks the storage capacity to retrieve the waste from these tanks until the waste treatment and disposal process is underway.
  • Washington’s $12.3 billion Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) continues to be designed and constructed to meet standards specific to the Yucca Mountain facility. Design and engineering for the WTP is 78 percent complete and construction is 48 percent complete.
  • Termination of the Yucca Mountain repository could result in the need to tear down and rebuild portions of the WTP to implement design and engineering changes necessary to meet another repository’s waste acceptance criteria, resulting in significant costs and delays in Hanford’s entire tank waste clean-up mission.

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Contacts: 

Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director, 360-586-0725

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