NEW YORK - Repeating her vow to kill Yucca Mountain if elected president, Senator Hillary Clinton called Friday for an immediate halt to the federal licensing process and for Senate hearings to consider alternatives to the proposed nuclear waste repository in southern Nevada.
Clinton’s remarks Friday ratchet up the debate about domestic US nuclear policy. The nuclear industry has received a warm reception under the Bush Administration, but Clinton and other democratic hopefuls for the White House are decidedly against the industry boosting seen under George Bush.
”It is past time to start exploring alternatives to Yucca Mountain,” Clinton told reporters.
”Once again the Bush administration is ignoring science and pushing forward recklessly with this license application without having protective standards in place,” Clinton said.
Clinton, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she will ask the panel’s chairman, California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, to schedule the hearing.
The committee has jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is setting radiation standards for the project, and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which will decide whether to approve the Department of Energy’s (DOE) application for a license to operate the waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
”I have not been persuaded that it is a suitable location for long-term storage. There are too many unanswered questions about both the geology of the site and the integrity of the science done to support the decision to store waste there,” Clinton said.
Originally scheduled to open in 1998, the dump –which would represent on of the world’s first geologic repositories for nuclear waste – has been set back repeatedly by lawsuits, money shortfalls and scientific controversies. The DOE’s current best-case opening date for the dump, which would hold 77,000 tons of waste, is 2017, though the DOE has said 2021 is more likely.
Indeed, once Yucca mountain is filled by the current time-table, another geologic repository of similar dimensions would have to be built to house all the nuclear waste arising between now and Yucca’s opening.
Clinton said she agrees the nation must devise a ”safe, secure, long-term waste storage solution.”
”As president, I will work with the scientific community to address this problem and come up with alternative solutions. But for now, what we need to do is turn our attention to laying the groundwork for making a better, smarter decision,” she said.
Clinton said she long has opposed the project and has been working with Senate majority leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, to make sure it is not built.
”As president, I will not go forward with Yucca Mountain. My administration will not proceed with Yucca Mountain,” she said.
”I’m not going to be president for 18 months. If we don’t try to slow it down now, it may become a fait accompli.”
In addition to the geology of the site, Clinton said she has concerns about transporting waste across the country to Nevada and the ”potential threat of terrorism.”
She said a Senate hearing would focus on public health and safety and make sure the Energy Department halts any further progress on the proposed project until the EPA formally adopts rules for radiation standards at the site.
”EPA has promised to put out a final rule by the end of 2006, but they still have not done so,” Clinton said.
”In the meantime, the Department of Energy is continuing to develop a license application. . . . that would move forward on Yucca Mountain and intends to do so within the next year,” she said.
She said the EPA and DOE have been unaccountable to Congress about the project. They have ”not had to answer questions up until now because the Republican Congress has not been willing to ask the hard questions,” she said.
DOE officials did not return a telephone message left at their Las Vegas office seeking comment Friday evening.