Declare Proposed National Permanent Nuclear Waste Repository Site Unsafe

  • Date: Jan 01 1999
  • Policy Number: 9911

Key Words: Nuclear War Weapons Wastes, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Waste

The American Public Health Association,

Having provided leadership in efforts to monitor and abate radiation hazards for more than 40 years;1 and

Knowing that the Department of Energy (DOE) must demonstrate through scientific studies that the proposed permanent Yucca Mountain repository site in Southern Nevada will safely contain and isolate the Nation's high-level nuclear waste for more than 10,000 years;2 and

Noticing with alarm that legislation is pending in Congress which will establish a temporary "interim" high-level waste storage facility prior to completion of these studies at the nearby Nevada Test Site (NTS) without requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine potential negative public health impacts;3 and

Concerned that location of this interim facility at the NTS will bias further scientific evaluations for suitability and safety of the adjacent Yucca Mountain site as a permanent waste repository; and

Knowing that marked, frequent seismic events in the proximity of both sites make it impossible to predict the protection of the public's health and safety from the risk of radioactive release (621 earthquakes greater than 2.5 within a 50 mile radius since 1976);4and

Recognizing that this level of seismic activity exceeds current Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations for allowing licensure as a nuclear reactor with on-site waste storage;5 and

Noting with alarm that recent DOE studies show that surface water infiltration and groundwater contamination will take place in the Yucca Mountain/NTS area much more rapidly than previously thought;6,7 and

Recognizing that the rate of underground flow into the drinking and irrigation water of the adjacent Amargosa Valley is reason to disqualify the Yucca Mountain site from further consideration as a permanent nuclear waste repository according to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA);8,9 and

Concerned that the DOE Yucca Mountain Safety Strategy allows for radioactive contamination of ground water, relying on dilution of the waste to limit the radiation dose to nearby residents10 who use the water for drinking, growing crops, and livestock, and for raising cows on the largest dairy in Nevada to supply the Los Angeles commercial milk market; and

Alarmed that pending legislation in Congress11 for the NTS interim facility increases the allowable radiation dose level to the public from the Yucca Mountain repository to 25 times greater than that established by the Safe Drinking Water Act,12 which is contrary to the more protective radiation standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP) in New Mexico;13 and

Noting that transportation of high-level nuclear waste to the NTS interim storage facility and to the Yucca Mountain permanent repository, if determined suitable, will affect 43 states putting 50 million people within one-half mile of the transportation routes at risk for exposure to potential high levels of radiation when inevitable accidents occur, as well as for lower levels of exposure during normal transportation;14,15 and

Recognizing that timely and continuing local and regional emergency preparedness along all proposed transportation routes is critical to respond to and mitigate the effects of a nuclear accident;16 and

Recognizing that alternative means must be fully explored for managing and disposing of high-level nuclear wastes to minimize health and safety risks for current and future generations;17,18 therefore

  1. Urges the Secretary of Energy to meet his or her duty 19 and declare the Yucca Mountain site unsuitable for development of a nuclear repository now or in the future, terminate all work at the site, and inform Congress of his actions; 
  2. Urges Congress to reject any proposed legislation for high-level nuclear waste storage which mandates weakening the existing radiation standards or excludes appropriate scientific studies designed to protect public health and safety;20 
  3. Urges Congress and the DOE to insure adequate national assistance and appropriations to fund emergency management activities for state and local jurisdictions through which nuclear waste will be transported well before the first nuclear waste shipment takes place and until all shipments cease; and
  4. Urges Congress to financially support research for alternative methods to safeguard and manage the Nation's high-level nuclear waste and minimize the risks to public health for all generations.21


  1. APHA Policy Statement No. 8918: Delay of Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP), A Nuclear Waste Repository, Until Safety is Assured. APHA Policy Statements; 1948-present, cumulative. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; current volume.
  2. Department of Energy. 10 CFR 960: Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982; General Guidelines for the Recommendation of Sites for Nuclear Waste Repositories. Fed Regist. 1984, December 6, 49(236).
  3. HR 45. A Bill to Amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. US House of Representatives: January 6, 1999.
  4. Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. Earthquakes: Magnitude 2.5 and Greater in the Vicinity of the Proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal Sites from 1976-1996. (Data Source: Council of the National Seismic System Composite Catalog, 1976 to present, Southern Great Basin Seismic Network) Nevada Nuclear Waste Policy News. 7(1). Carson City, Nevada, July 1997.
  5. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 10 CFR 100: Reactor Site Criteria. Fed Regist. December 11, 1996.
  6. Kersting AB. Migration of Plutonium in Groundwater at the Nevada Test Site. Nature, 1999;397:56-59.
  7. Fabryka-Martin JT, et al. Summary Report of Chlorine-36: Systematic Sampling for Chlorine-36 in the Exploratory Studies Facility. Los Alamos National Laboratory, March 29, 1996.
  8. See 2.
  9. Miller B (Nevada Governor), Guinn K (Nevada Governor-Elect). Letter to Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy. Carson City, Nevada, December 4, 1998.
  10. US Department of Energy. Repository Safety Strategy: US Department of Energy's Strategy to Protect Public Health and Safety after Closure of a Yucca Mountain Repository. Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Las Vegas, Nevada, December 1998.
  11. See 3.
  12. Environmental Protection Agency. 40CFR141.16: Maximum contaminant levels for beta and photon radioactivity from man-made radionuclides in community water systems. Fed Regist. July 9, 1976.
  13. Environmental Protection Agency. 40 CFR 191: Environmental Standards for Management and Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel, High-Level and Transuranic Radioactive Wastes. Fed Regist. September 19, 1985.
  14. Holt M. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel, Washington, DC: Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division; March 27, 1997.
  15. See 1.
  16. See 14.
  17. Makhijani A. Considering the Alternatives: Creating a framework for sound long-term management of highly radioactive wastes in the United States. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. Science for Democratic Action. 7(3), April 1999.
  18. Makhijani A. Institutional Reform for Long-Term Nuclear Waste Management. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. Science for Democratic Action. 7(3), April 1999.
  19. Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Amended [42 U.S.C. 10101 et seq.] Sec. 113(c)(3).
  20. See 3.
  21. Olson M, Piersma A. A Letter to Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy. Signed by 219 environmental and consumer organizations. Washington, DC, November 19, 1998.

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