State fights nuclear waste shipments

  In a measure environmental groups say will put 50 million Americans at risk of radiation exposure, Congress recently authorized storage of 50,000 tons of nuclear waste at the Nevada Test Site.


Opponent Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., dubbed the bill "Mobile Chernobyl," because it funds the transportation of spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants in 43 states to a temporary storage facility at the site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Department of Energy's environmental impact statement predicts 295,000 truck trips to the Nevada Test Site, and as many as 69 fatalities, 23 from radiation exposure, from all shipments nationally.


Opponents of the bill raise two concerns: that the Nevada Test Site is not safe for storage, and that the risk of accidents from thousands of truckloads of nuclear waste plying the nation's highways is too high. "This could be one of the country's worst environmental disasters," said Karen Kirchgasser, spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. "It pre-empts every environmental law on the books."


The House passed the bill, 307-120, on Oct. 30, with more than enough votes to override a veto, which President Clinton has threatened. But the bill passed the Senate two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to defeat a veto. Now, the House and Senate are working on a new version of the bill that would attract enough votes to override a veto. They hope to have it on Clinton's desk by March.


Meanwhile, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories discovered plutonium-contaminated groundwater within a mile of the Nevada Test Site. Nevada's tiny congressional delegation seized on the information in their ongoing attempt to prevent more nuclear waste coming to Nevada. Annie Kersting, a Livermore isotope chemist, said they've traced the plutonium to a 1968 test blast.


For information, contact Sen. Bryan's office, at 202/224-6244. You may also call the White House Comment Line at 202/456-1111. To get a copy of the Department of Energy's Environmental Impact Statement, Final Waste Management Programatic EIS, call 800/736-3282, and ask for publication DOE/EIS-0200-F.


* Jason Lenderman