Thursday, April 27, 2006

NIMBY and me

Tomorrow, April 28, Governor Huntsman of Utah and an impressive collection of high-ranking politicians are holding a rally and press conference over the proposed plan to temporarily store high-level nuclear waste in Utah. Called "“No Way Day"”, the public is invited to attend the events at the State Office Building Auditorium at noon. (More information can be found at The BLM is accepting public comment on this issue until May 8--the contact information for the BLM can be found at the bottom of this post.

I have mixed feelings about the proposed Goshute Indian Reservation (Skull Valley) temporary storage plan. Obviously nobody really relishes the idea of storing dangerous materials less than an hour'’s drive from their home. But I have to guard against a knee-jerk reaction to a serious issue such as this. A "not-in-my-backyard" (NIMBY) attitude is not unexpected, but neither is it appropriate.

I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, and along with most of my fellow state citizens, I was firmly against the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. Many of the same arguments against Yucca Mountain are being used against Skull Valley:

  • Nevada and Utah don'’t even generate high level nuclear waste, so why should we have to clean up after the "other"” states?
  • This radioactive material is going to remain dangerous for thousands and thousands of years--how can anyone be sure it will be safe even in the short term?
  • The states' citizens have not been asked in any meaningful way what they think about the storage (be it temporary or permanent).
  • What about transporting the fuel to the sites--near or even through some of our major population centers?
However, as my understanding of the politics and science of the situation have broadened, I have slowly changed my mind regarding Yucca Mountain. Even though we don't produce nuclear waste, we are part of a nation that does, and we can't "stick it" to the "other" states. We have to be willing to do our share. Yes, the material is dangerous, and likely to remain so for a very very very long time. But I feel that we have done as much as our present technology allows to mitigate this danger. Ditto for the transportation issue. It's sad and frustrating that we don't have as loud a voice as we would like in this issue, but our states are small in numbers--the way our government works, it counts against us, and that's the way it is. So I can't in good conscience oppose Yucca Mountain or Skull Valley on those points.

However, the Skull Valley situation offers one potential problem that I don't have an answer for. The nature of the Goshute Valley plan is that it is temporary. We aren't prepared for, and haven't studied the impact of, long-term storage at that site. Eventually, the waste stored there will be moved to a permanent storage site (presumably Yucca). There's one problem with this--Yucca Mountain was chosen as the nation's permanent storage site nearly 20 years ago (the "Screw Nevada" Bill of 1987), and according to the government website on Yucca Mountain, the project has not even begun to construct the repository. So forgive me if I feel doubtful that Yucca Mountain will ever be ready.

If my (rather pessimistic) scenario comes true, what happens to the waste stored at Skull Valley? With all the uproar about transporting it here in the first place, I somehow doubt anyone will want to try to move it again. And so, Skull Valley becomes a permanent site simply by default. And I don't think that's a good idea. Unless I can be convinced that this is highly unlikely to happen, I have to "vote" against Skull Valley.

Contact: Pam Schuller
E-mail address:
Fax number: (801) 977-4397

Send letters to:
Bureau of Land Management
Salt Lake Field Office
2370 South 2300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84119

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