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Barack Obama, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump...Then and Now: [View All]

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in_cog_ni_to Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-31-08 12:15 PM
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Barack Obama, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump...Then and Now:
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Edited on Thu Jan-31-08 12:18 PM by in_cog_ni_to

His future opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and she was present at the hearing. Her position on the matter was clear and unequivocal: "Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store spent fuel from our nation's nuclear reactors."

It is a position she has maintained for many years. Indeed, she voted against the authorization of the development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain on 9 July 2002. She also issued a press release after she cast that courageous vote.

Obama also had the opportunity to oppose the nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain in 2002, when the Illinois state Senate considered an instrument entitled Illinois State Senate Resolution 342 on 18 APR 2002. According to the synopsis, SR0342 "urges Congress to sustain President Bush's affirmative decision on Yucca Mountain's suitability as a permanent federal repository for high-level radioactive materials." Although Obama was present when the bill was considered on the floor of the Illinois state Senate, he did not voice any objections. As a result, SR0342 was adopted with the unanimous consent of Barack Obama and the entire Illinois state Senate. I quote the relevant passages on page 26 of this transcript of the proceedings of the Illinois state Senate:

Illinois state Senator Barack Obama had two opportunities to engage in a discussion on SR0342, but he remained silent. And he remained silent until 30 OCT 2007, when for political reasons the aspiring President informed Senators Boxer and Reid that he believed "the time for debate on this site is over." But what of the two opportunities he had to debate the Yucca Mountain resolution he and the Illinois state Senate adopted with unanimous consent in April 2002? Was not April 2002 the time for vigorous debate on President Bush's recommendation? Hillary Clinton certainly thought so. Obama, on the other hand, did not, for it was not politically expedient for the Illinois state Senator to oppose George Bush and the nuclear energy lobby of Illinois: his bid for the Presidency was not yet on the horizon, and Obama would have to rely on Illinois special interests such as Exelon, the atomic energy giant that donated $74,350 to Obama in 2004, in order to raise funds for his US Senate bid.
But even more troubling is the $181,000 Obama has accepted from Exelon since he announced his Presidential bid. How can Obama protect Nevadans from the nuclear power lobby when he is financially beholden to the special interests who desire to dump their radioactive toxic waste at Yucca Mountain?

And NOW:

Here is the full letter:

October 30, 2007

Dear Leader Reid and Chairman Boxer:

I understand that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on October 31 entitled, "Examination of the Licensing Process for the Yucca Mountain Repository," at which Senator Reid is scheduled to testify. I know both of you have been working on this issue for many years, so I am writing to share my perspective on the issue given its importance to my home state of Illinois. Although I am no longer a member of the EPW Committee, I respectfully offer the following views and ask that they be included as part of the hearing record. Separately, I will be submitting questions for the hearing witnesses.

Given the nation's rising energy demand and the serious problems posed by global climate change, we need to increase the use of carbon-free energy sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. But we cannot deny that nuclear power is and likely will remain an important source of electricity for many years to come. How we deal with the dangerous byproduct of nuclear reactors is a critical question that has yet to be resolved.

As you may know, Illinois has 11 nuclear reactors more than any other state in the country. Nuclear power provides more than 50 percent of the electricity needs of Illinois. Where and how we store spent nuclear fuel is an extremely important issue for my constituents. Currently, in the absence of any alternative, spent nuclear fuel generated by Illinois' reactors is stored in Illinois.

In 1987, Congress attempted to reach a national solution to the storage of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste by abandoning the scientific consideration of a wide range of possible sites and instead unilaterally imposing a final decision to focus only on Yucca Mountain, Nevada. During the past 20 years, over the strong opposition of the people of Nevada, billions of dollars have been spent by taxpayers and ratepayers in the construction of this location. Millions of dollars have been spent on lawsuits, and hundreds of millions more will be spent in the future if the Department of Energy fails to meet its contractual obligations to nuclear utilities.

Proponents suggest Yucca Mountain will not be ready to accept spent fuel shipments for another 10 years; more realistic prognostications suggest we are at least two decades from Yucca Mountain accepting shipments.

Legitimate scientific questions have been raised about the safety of storing spent nuclear fuel at this location. With regard to Yucca Mountain, the National Academy of Sciences maintains that peak risks might occur hundreds of thousands of years from now. In 2004, a federal court questioned whether standards developed by the Environmental Protection Agency for the Yucca Mountain repository were sufficient to guarantee the safety of Nevadans.

Questions also have been raised about the viability of transporting spent nuclear fuel to Nevada from different locations around the country. Although it would seem to serve the interests of Illinois and other states with nuclear reactors to send our waste to another state, transporting nuclear waste materials poses uncertain risk. In fact, since a large amount of this spent fuel would likely travel by rail, this is a serious concern for the people of Chicago, which is the transportation hub of the Midwest.

Because of these safety issues and the unwavering opposition from the people of Nevada and their elected officials, there is strong reason to believe that many more billions of dollars could be expended on Yucca Mountain without any significant progress in moving towards a permanent solution to the problem of where to store spent nuclear fuel.

For these reasons, I believe that it is no longer a sustainable federal policy for Yucca Mountain to be considered as a permanent repository. Instead of re-examining the 20-year licensing process and the billions of dollars that have already been spent, the time has come for the federal government to refocus its resources on finding more viable alternatives for the storage of spent nuclear fuel. Among the possible alternatives that should be considered are finding another state willing to serve as a permanent national repository or creating regional storage repositories. The federal government should also redirect resources toward improving the safety and security of spent fuel at plant sites around the country until a safe, long-term solution can be implemented.

Regardless of what alternative is pursued, two premises should guide federal decision-making. First, any storage option should be supported by sound science. We need to ensure that nuclear waste can be safely stored without polluting aquifers or soil and exposing nearby residents to toxic radiation.

Second, we should select a repository location through a process that develops national consensus and respects state sovereignty, not one in which the federal government cuts off debate and forces one state to accept nuclear waste from other states. The flawed process by which Yucca Mountain was selected now manifests itself as a profoundly expensive endeavor of monumental proportion.

In short, the selection of Yucca Mountain has failed, the time for debate on this site is over, and it is time to start exploring new alternatives for safe, long-term solutions based on sound science. I thank you both for your leadership on this issue, and I appreciate your consideration of my views.


Barack Obama
United States Senator
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