Three Locations Picked as Likely Nuclear Dump
The Reagan Administration Wednesday selected sites in Nevada, Washington and Texas as possible locations for the nation’s first nuclear waste dump and “postponed indefinitely” consideration of a second dump in other regions of the country.
The decision calmed strong opposition in the Midwest and East but ignited furor in the West.
Nevada Gov. Richard H. Bryan, declaring himself “extraordinarily frustrated and angry,” immediately filed five lawsuits on behalf of the state to block the decision, each based on a different legal ground. “It appears that Nevada has been shafted,” the Democratic governor declared.
Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, also a Democrat, blasted the selection as a “political decision” that he said the state will challenge in court. Democratic Gov. Mark White of Texas, also announcing legal action, charged that the Administration’s decision ignored “scientific evidence and common sense.”
The three finalists, selected from five sites that were under consideration, are Yucca Mountain in Nevada, located on federal lands adjacent to an underground nuclear weapons test area on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert; Deaf Smith County in the Texas Panhandle, located on private land near a huge aquifer that contains drinking and irrigation water, and Hanford in Washington, where the Energy Department already runs a nuclear reactor.
Energy Secretary John S. Herrington, announcing the selection at a news conference, dismissed speculation that politics influenced the decision.
The secretary said he rejected sites in Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin as locations for a second dump because the amount of nuclear waste now generated will not require consideration of an additional dump until the mid-1990s. He noted that no new nuclear power plants have been ordered since 1978.
Herrington said that neither strong opposition by those states, including New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary, nor expectations of a demise of the nuclear energy industry in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster influenced the decisions.
“There is no relation between Chernobyl and this decision,” he said.
Rather, Herrington said, he believes that it was financially imprudent to spend up to $700 million to evaluate potential sites for a second dump that may not be needed for several years. He said that the Nevada, Washington and Texas sites were selected on technical and scientific grounds and declared that there is “almost zero chance” that none of the three would be chosen in 1991.
“Look, picking the sites is not an easy job,” Herrington told a packed auditorium during the news conference.
In addition to the three finalists, the department had nominated locations in Utah and Mississippi for the first dump. The Utah site borders Canyonlands National Park and was strongly opposed by park conservationists.
Park Location a Factor
“The location of the park was a factor, but it was not a major deterrent,” said Ben C. Rusche, director of the Energy Department’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.
Rusche said the Utah and Mississippi sites could be considered again if problems are found at the other three. He also cautioned that a second dump should not be ruled out in the future.
Work to determine which site is ultimately chosen will include building exploratory shafts 1,000 feet to 4,000 feet in depth, underground testing facilities and roads. Rusche estimated that this work will cost $970 million for the Washington site, $780 million for the Nevada site and $850 million for the Texas site.
Those costs will be financed by the Nuclear Waste Fund, to which nuclear companies pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour for nuclear-generated commercial electricity.
Ultimate opposition by the governor, the legislature or an Indian tribe in any of the three states would require a joint resolution of Congress to overcome. The Energy Department hopes to begin construction of the dump in 1994. Nuclear waste is now stored in pools of water at the production sites.
Dave Berick, nuclear waste specialist at the Environmental Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C., charged that the selection of Hanford is a “fraud” because technically it is less suitable than the other sites. He speculated that the Energy Department chose the site because it already owns the property and warned that a dump next to the nuclear reactor there could be disastrous.
“There is an enormous amount of radioactive material in the soil around that site, and to start drilling through a highly pressurized aquifer under the site and creating a possible channel is a serious concern,” Berick said. “And, if you had a Chernobyl-type accident there, would you even be able to use that site?”
He said the postponement of consideration of the Eastern sites was politically inspired, despite the Administration’s denials.
“They have really stirred up a hornet’s nest by the way they have gone about the selection process,” he said. “I think the DOE, in looking at the success of their program, would much rather have three states to contend with than delegations from seven or eight or nine states.”