Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords, I-Vt.
Oversight Hearing on the Status of the Yucca Mountain Project
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Today we are conducting a very important hearing to determine the status of the federal project to develop Yucca Mountain as a permanent disposal site for our Nation's nuclear waste. My State of Vermont, along with 39 other states, relies on nuclear power for a large portion of its electricity generation. It is an important part of our energy mix. Nonetheless, we must be realistic in dealing with the downsides associated with nuclear power. Over 30 years ago, as Vermont's Attorney General, I was concerned about the impact of nuclear waste on our environment and the health of Vermonters. As Attorney General, I fought to improve the safety standards at Vermont Yankee by calling for the use of new technology that dramatically reduced airborne radiation. When the industry resisted, I required Vermont Yankee to enter into a contract with the State to use the best available technology to control radiation and to accept State monitoring, protecting the Connecticut River and the people of Vermont. The Atomic Energy Commission later accepted these technologies as their industry standard. Throughout my time in Congress I have continued to work for a comprehensive solution to our nuclear waste problem. Back in 1977, I introduced a bill in the House calling for a comprehensive nuclear waste disposal strategy. I maintained then, as I do now, that finding an effective solution to the waste problem is critical to the future of nuclear power in this country. I supported the Yucca Mountain proposal in the past, in the belief that it would resolve the problem, and contain both our past and future nuclear waste. I have consistently supported a central storage solution for nuclear waste. I continue to believe that it is essential that we find a permanent, geologic storage site if we are to continue to produce nuclear power. However, the truth is that Yucca Mountain will not provide this solution, and the project faces many challenges. It is now clear that Yucca Mountain will only take part of the waste, leaving some, if not most of the waste that will be produced sitting along the banks of rivers, beside our small local communities and our largest population centers. Yucca Mountain will certainly not hold waste from any new nuclear plants that the industry is planning to build. This is not adequate. This is not acceptable. Moreover, as we will examine today, we should not try to beat a square peg into a round hole by trying to make the science or regulations “fit” our efforts to build the Yucca site. If the agencies working to site the Yucca project cut corners, we will undermine our efforts to develop a sound, permanent and comprehensive solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal. This will also lull us into a false sense of security, believing that important issues related to disposal are taken care of. They are not. Americans need to know that under a geologic disposal “solution,” high-level waste will be stored safely, and that we’ve set the highest and best standards to protect the environment and human health when we have to build future disposal sites. I urge my colleagues to be diligent today, to be focused in their questions, and to push for answers about whether we are getting a real and comprehensive solution to nuclear waste disposal. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.