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Public Speaks Out at NRC Hearing on Nuclear Waste Storage

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When New Yorkers had a chance to enter the bureaucratic discussion known as “Waste Confidence rulemaking,” they voiced outrage, disgust and deep personal concern over the long-term storage of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

The first step in dealing with the problem of nuclear waste – including the nearly 2,000 tons stored indefinitely on the Hudson River banks at Indian Point, just 35 miles from Midtown Manhattan – is to stop making more of it, they said.

About 250 people attended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s hearing at the Tarrytown Marriott Oct. 30, one of several being held across the country. The public was invited to comment about the NRC’s determination that no significant safety or environmental impacts would result from long-term, on-site storage of radioactive waste at power plants. The NRC was forced to prepare an environmental review following a successful federal court challenge to its “Waste Confidence Rule” by Riverkeeper, New York State, Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations.

Some speakers emphasized the issue as a moral and ethical one, considering that nuclear waste will remain toxic for some 250,000 years.

“What are we doing to the future?” one man said, describing a kind of denial over the public health threat from nuclear waste. He faulted the NRC’s environmental review for failing to confront these realities.

“This is a problem we can’t wish away, but we keep trying to,” he said. “If we continue to deny, we continue to compound the problem. And we become morally sick.”

The implications of securing radioactive material for unfathomable time frames, thousands and thousands of years, lead to a level of absurdity in the eyes of many. What language would be used on the storage containers, one woman asked, if it’s meant to serve as a warning so many years into the future?

The crowd questioned how the NRC could gain anything from its environmental review, rather than studying the conditions of each nuclear waste site. Such conditions include earthquake fault lines and a history of safety and maintenance lapses, in the case of Indian Point.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office criticized the review, issuing a statement that “communities that serve as de facto long-term nuclear waste repositories deserve a full and detailed accounting of the environmental, public health, and safety risks. Unfortunately, … the Waste Confidence DGEIS, as presented, fails to provide such a full and detailed accounting, and therefore, fails our communities.”

The NRC’s “Waste Confidence” terminology also struck more than a few people as absurd.

“Whose confidence are we talking about?” said one woman, a copy editor, suggesting only the NRC and the nuclear industry had any confidence in the ability to safely store nuclear waste. “We are not confident at all.”

She wearily pounded the podium and faulted the NRC for “arrogance” and for responding to critical health and safety concerns with mere lip service. “We don’t believe you anymore,” she said, “if we ever did.”

“Indian Point has become a de facto toxic waste dump over the last forty years of its operation – it makes no sense to relicense the reactors, and allow another one thousand tons of waste to be created with no solution in sight,” said Phillip Musegaas, Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Program Director. “The NRC must go back to the drawing board, and develop a plan to move this dangerous waste out of pools into dry casks as soon as possible to avoid the risk of a catastrophic radiation release from these pools.”

If you missed the hearing, you can still take action on this important issue. Public comments may be submitted at using Docket ID NRC-2012-0246; by e-mail to [email protected]; by fax to 301-415-1101; or by mail to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff. Stay tuned for more guidance from Riverkeeper on key points. Comment Deadline: December 20.

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