June 14, 2011: Statement at Environment and the Economy hearing on Yucca Mountain

Statement of Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)
“The NRC Inspector General Report on the ‘NRC Chairman’s Unilateral Decision to Terminate NRC’s Review of the DOE Yucca Mountain Repository License Application’ ”
Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy

June 14, 2011

“I find it highly ironic that we are having a hearing to express the Majority’s apparent surprise that matters related to Yucca Mountain are sometimes ‘political’.

“This issue has been nothing BUT political from the very beginning.  The Department of Energy was supposed to select two scientifically appropriate sites – one east of the Mississippi, and one west of the Mississippi.

“But the Speaker of the House then came from Texas. He said, ‘I don't want it in Texas.’ That was one of the sites. The second site was in Washington State. The majority leader came from Washington State. He said, ‘I don't want it in Washington State.’ It was out. The third State was the salt domes in Louisiana. The Chairman of the Committee on Energy came from Louisiana. He said, ‘I don't want it in Louisiana,’ and it was out. The fourth site was in North Carolina. The ranking Republican on the Committee on Energy and Commerce came from North Carolina. North Carolina was out. The fifth site was the solid granite of New Hampshire, and John Sununu and George Bush said, ‘That is out in the 1988 Presidential election. We are not burying all the nuclear waste in America in New Hampshire.’

“So Congress barred DOE from looking any other site other than Yucca Mountain. We used POLITICAL science, not REAL science, to hand the nuclear queen of spades to Nevada.

“The problem with that is that Yucca Mountain has two fault lines running right through it and is in an active earthquake zone.  There have been more than 600 earthquakes within 50 miles of the site within the last 20 years. We saw just how earthquakes can impact spent nuclear fuel in Japan just a few months ago. 

“Moreover, in 1997 scientists found that plutonium from nuclear weapons tests that had been conducted just a few decades earlier had migrated a mile through water in the rock near Yucca Mountain, which contradicted earlier assertions that the repository site was geologically isolated from the water table.

“So basically what we had was Congress writing a law declaring that Yucca Mountain was a ‘nuclear Alcatraz,’ but scientists saying that it is more like a ‘nuclear sieve.’

“The Obama Administration bravely recognized that moving forward with Yucca Mountain was not the scientifically appropriate direction to take. DOE withdrew its license application, and Congress started to slash funding for the project. 

“Chairman Greg Jaczko then did what any permitting office would do when a building plan is canceled – he stopped spending money processing the permit. Although members of this Committee have accused him of doing something illegal, the NRC Inspector General and General Counsel have both found that it was legal and entirely within his authority to do.”