Paul F. P. Pogue

Earlier this year, President George W. Bush approved the selection of Yucca Mountain, Nev., as a permanent dump site for nuclear waste from the country"s nuclear reactors over the course of the next 30 years. The Citizen"s Action Coalition of Indiana (CACI), working from government numbers, estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 shipments of nuclear waste will traverse public roads under this plan; of those shipments, 8,000 would pass through Indiana.

The governor of Nevada vetoed the selection of Yucca Mountain as a permanent dump site. In order to override the veto, both houses of Congress must vote against the governor. The House of Representatives has already voted in favor of overriding. Of Indiana"s House delegation, Dan Burton did not vote; Pete Visclosky, Baron Hill, John Hostettler, Brian Kearns and Steve Buyer voted to override; Julia Carson, Mark Souder, Mike Pence and Tim Roemer voted to uphold the veto. The override bill remains in committee in the Senate; the CACI says the bill is expected to go to a floor vote on July 9.

The CACI is circulating a petition to encourage Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar to vote against the override, and says they have accumulated thousands of signatures and generated many letters to Congress.

"I"m proud of our part in this fight," CACI Executive Director Chris Williams says. "I wish other key states were as organized as Indiana is right now."

Williams says that Lugar is expected to vote in favor of the override, while Bayh is expected to vote against. "Senator Lugar has said that we need to put all this stuff on the road, on the rails and on barges in the interest of national security, which I and a lot of other people find absurd," Williams says. "Based on [Bayh"s] votes in committee, he"s voted no to Yucca Mountain. We"re hoping that will carry on into the floor vote."

The CACI hopes that public education will carry the day, according to Williams; he notes that tens of thousands of nuclear waste transports on public roads are a major environmental risk and potential terrorist target. The CACI further maintains that local emergency management agencies are not fully trained and equipped to handle a major nuclear transport accident.

"When people find out what the plan is, they"re dumbfounded and then they"re angry. In light of 9/11, Yucca aside, the transportation plan is insane," Williams says. "They haven"t even devised a transportation plan. They"re just going to designate Yucca as the dumping site and leave it at that."

Williams notes that though they don"t have exact numbers yet on how senators plan to vote, the outcome is likely to fall in favor of the override.

"We knew going in it was going to be an uphill battle, mostly because a lot of senators in states that have nuclear power plants are saying that they need to vote for this to get nuclear waste out of their states," Williams says. "But even if this waste is moved, the industry is going to keep right on producing more waste."

Two weeks ago, an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale hit 10 miles from Yucca Mountain, further stirring the debate.

"This drives home the fact that this is being driven by politics and not sound science," Williams says.

Williams says the CACI"s goal is not just to shut down the selection of Yucca Mountain as a storage site, but to spur a rethinking of the nation"s use of nuclear power and security at the various storage sites.

"We"re pushing for what we call HOSS: Hardened on-site storage," Williams says. "We need to take a step back from dumping waste into Yucca and increase security at the present nuclear sites Ö At this point, we"re 60 years into the nuclear age. We"ve created a whole lot of waste faster than we can deal with it efficiently, and it"s waste that needs to be stored for at least 10,000 and maybe as much as a quarter-million years. That"s a span of time we can barely comprehend."


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