Friday, August 17, 2012





August 17, 2012

Dear Friends,

Radioactive waste policy in the U.S. is reaching a Perfect Storm--a rare confluence of events that inevitably will bring about the first major changes in our nuclear waste policy in 25 years.

These changes are likely to affect all of us--and perhaps the entire future of nuclear power and prospects for a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future.

These changes are most likely to come about by Congressional legislation. But probably not in this polarized election year, more likely over the next 18 months.

What these changes will be is not yet established. This is both a potential threat and a genuine opportunity to finally make real progress on radioactive waste. Our combined presence, outreach and mobilization, our willingness and ability to make our voices heard, will make all the difference.

We're starting now, with a quick letter to our Congressmembers outlining a couple of very basic principles about radioactive waste. These may seem elementary, but trust us, 98% of your Congressmembers have never heard them before, and certainly not from the kind of numbers your actions can produce. Take this first step here, now. It's important.

National Conference Call Briefing
Many of you will want a lot more information on radioactive waste issues than this Alert can provide. So NIRS has set up a national conference call briefing from three of the nation's foremost experts on radioactive waste for next Thursday, August 23, at 4 pm Eastern time.

Speaking at this briefing will be:
* Steve Frishman, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force: on the most recent developments affecting Nevada and the Western Shoshone Nation and the failed Yucca Mountain proposed high-level dump they have fought for so long.

* Don Hancock, Southwest Research and Information Center: on storage of highly radioactive waste: past, present, proposed and reflections on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future to "consolidate" storage at "volunteer sites."

* Geoff Fettus, Natural Resources Defense Council: on the recent legal victory that struck down the Waste Confidence Decision, an NRC regulation that excluded consideration of irradiated fuel rods in the licensing of nuclear reactors, and what comes next.

To be on this call, please contact Mary Olson of NIRS for call-in information by e-mail at She will get back to you. If you're with the nuclear industry, don't bother....

Further below, underneath my signature, is a little more background on some of the elements of this Perfect Storm on radioactive waste policy.
See you in September....

But first, if you haven't yet heard, a major national anti-nuclear rally and three-day convergence is being planned for Washington, DC from September 20-22. We hope as many of you as possible will come. This will be the first such national event in many years and we're looking forward to seeing all of you. Here is a poster for the event--save it, print it, put it up all over your community! Click the poster and you'll get to the website of Coalition Against Nukes, which is sponsoring the events.

This is not a NIRS-sponsored event. Rather, this is a true grassroots phenomenon being organized by individuals and grassroots groups across the country through social media, phone calls, and direct contact. Isn't that great to see?! NIRS is supporting and helping how we can, and we'll be speaking at the Congressional briefing they're planning, and other events over the three days.

Please contact Coalition Against Nukes if you need help with things like buses to DC and other logistics. Set up caravans and car pools. We do hope many, many of you will come for at least a portion of the events.

And here is one more thing: this No Nukes Girl has become a symbol of the anti-nuclear opposition in Japan. Click on her to go to the artist's website, where you can download and print this artwork. Print it large! Let's have 1,000 No Nukes Girls in Washington, DC and at the NRC September 20-22!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to NIRS in the past two weeks! We are so grateful. But unfortunately, we fell far short of our $10,000 goal for contributions. Also unfortunately, bills did not stop arriving in our mailbox. So, we have to ask again: please support NIRS now, as generously as you can. We're trying not to send more paper to your home mailbox, or bother you incessantly online, but we do have to ask. If you're like me, you get about 10-12 pleas per day for contributions from various political candidates. We support the political process, but hey, why not donate to something that is using your money not to get elected, but to build an entire movement? Your donations are tax-deductible, very gratefully appreciated, and are used to build the movement for a nuclear-free carbon-free future. And what better cause could there be? Don't like giving online? Then please send a check to NIRS, 6930 Carroll Avenue, #340, Takoma Park, MD 20912. And thank you so much.

Again, below is a discussion of some of the major factors leading to the Perfect Storm in radioactive waste policy. Take a moment to read it. And please take a moment here to send the initial message of basic principles to your Congressmembers. 

Thanks so much for all you do,

Michael Mariotte
Executive Director
Nuclear Information and Resource Service

Some of the elements creating the Perfect Storm

A number of factors have occurred in recent years--and especially recent months--that have brought us to this Perfect Storm on radioactive waste that will certainly result in substantial changes to--and, if we work it hard--improved, radioactive waste policy. These include:

*President Obama declaring an end to the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada radioactive waste dump and, in tandem with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, ending Department of Energy funding to pursue this project.

*Then NRC Chair Greg Jazcko's refusal to spend any more NRC money or resources on reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application, given the administration's decision to end Yucca Mountain, followed by the appointment of Yucca-skeptic Allison Macfarlane to replace Jazcko.

*The Department of Energy's establishment of a Blue Ribbon Commission to re-evaluate U.S. radioactive waste policy, which reported its recommendations earlier this year. Those recommendations are now reflected in new legislation (S. 3469) offered by retiring Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and will be reflected in a new proposal slated to come from the Obama administration in September 2012. Key provisions of these recommendations include establishment of a centralized "interim" waste storage site--which the entire environmental community adamantly opposes; establishment of a new agency to replace DOE in selecting a radioactive waste site(s) and a new but largely undefined "consensus" process so that only communities that really want a nuclear waste dump should get one. 

Centralized "interim" storage means wholesale and risky transportation of high-level nuclear waste across our country, affecting tens of millions of Americans, to a site that may not be suitable for permanent storage and from which waste may have to be moved again. Tell Congress: No Mobile Chernobyl; Stop Fukushima Freeways! We will not accept radioactive waste transport to an "interim" site, period.

*The Fukushima disaster and the frightening reality of severe damage to a reactor's irradiated fuel pool, while at the same time fuel stored in dry casks at Fukushima was apparently not adversely affected by either the earthquake or tsunami. Add to that a growing recognition that fuel pools at U.S. reactors are typically much fuller than those at Fukushima, and thus are both more vulnerable and carry a larger radioactive inventory.

*This summer, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of several states, NRDC and others who had brought suit challenging the NRC's "waste confidence rule." This rule had stated that the NRC need not consider radioactive waste generation in licensing new reactors or extending licenses of existing reactors, because the NRC was confident that a permanent radioactive waste site would be licensed eventually and that, if not, existing on-site storage is good enough in any case. The court ruled that the NRC has no reason to believe a permanent site will be established and has no technical basis for stating that existing on-site storage methods (primarily fuel pools) are good enough.

*Responding to the court decision and contentions filed in every current new reactor and license renewal case by grassroots intervenors (including NIRS), the NRC ruled that it cannot grant any new reactor licenses, or approve any new license renewals, until it has addressed the waste confidence problem. Early indications are that this could take a year or more. This suspension of new licenses should be made permanent.

*In the meantime, pro-nuclear forces are marshaling to try to force Yucca Mountain on Nevada and the American people, and to try other mechanisms to speed nuclear power development, create new radioactive waste sites regardless of environmental impact, and to ignore the hard lessons learned from the past 25 years of failed radioactive waste policy.

*Over the past few years, the nation's anti-nuclear, environmental community has managed to coalesce behind a statement of principles for radioactive waste. These principles are known as HOSS--for Hardened On-Site Storage--and reflect a belief that high-level radioactive waste should remain where it has been generated, but that the fuel pools should be emptied to the extent possible as soon as possible into dry cask storage that is additionally protected by berming and other features from natural disasters, terrorism and the like. You can read this statement here (pdf file). No one believes that dry casks are a permanent solution to the problem, but after years of discussion, the nation's anti-nuclear movement believes they are the best answer for the present for the waste that already has been generated. Of course, ending the generation of any more radioactive waste is also vital, and demonstrating the shortcomings of every possible waste storage method--including our preferred method of HOSS--is a key step toward ending waste generation generally.

Stay Informed:
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