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Public Statements

Storing Nuclear Waste

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, this marks the first of what I hope to be many times to address you and my colleagues on an issue that I have been graced with having the responsibility to deal in the public policy arena, and that's the issue of nuclear waste.

When people talk about nuclear waste and this debate about where it is and why it's there, they primarily talk about our nuclear utilities. Especially after Fukushima Daiichi, people understand that when you store high-level nuclear waste onsite and if there's a disaster that occurs and if the pools run dry, then you might have a melting which might spread radioactivity, and that's not good for anybody. That's a good debate to have because we have nuclear waste stored all over this country.

But I'm not here really to talk about the private for-profit sector, the nuclear industry today. I'm here to tell another story, another story that really talks about why we have government and why there's still a need for some government entities.

Back during World War II--and we just heard my colleague talk about the Honor Flights--back during World War II, we decided as a Nation to win these wars. One way to make sure that we wouldn't lose thousands upon thousands of soldiers in an invasion of Japan was to develop the nuclear bomb. Two were dropped; the war ended. Many people historically know that development, that occurred because of the Manhattan Project.

What I think a lot of people don't know is that we still are dealing with much of the history of winning the war in the Manhattan Project and that winning the Cold War relied upon a strong military and a strong nuclear deterrence. So even after World War II, we continued to develop nuclear weapons, which we deal with today.

So I had a chance to visit during our last district work period, I took a day and visited a place called Hanford, Washington. Hanford, Washington was part of the Manhattan Project. Hanford was the site that the U.S. military picked to help produce plutonium. The ``Fat Man'' bomb was developed there. That area was picked for a lot of reasons. There weren't a lot of people there. As you can see, the Columbia River is right next to it. You had some low-cost power production, and so it was a good site. And, hence, people got moved off the land, the government took over, and the government has been controlling hundreds of acres in Washington State even today.

The result of the Cold War and winning World War II is that millions of gallons of nuclear waste now reside in Hanford, Washington. And I'm not exaggerating. In fact, 53 million gallons of nuclear waste is onsite. And what's interesting about Hanford, of course, when you started storing this nuclear waste, our technology, our information, our knowledge was not as great as it is now. The way we stored this material then would not be an acceptable process today. It is an environmental disaster and a hazard that has to be cleaned up.

You have approximately 174 storage tanks. These storage tanks are from 750,000 gallons to a million gallons, all with nuclear waste in these tanks. These tanks are buried, as it says here, 10 feet underground and 250 feet above the water table, a mile from the Columbia River. Some of these tanks are leaking. It's just not a good thing for us to have. And so the government has been trying to deal with this one site of nuclear waste in this country.

Why do I bring this before you, Mr. Speaker, and why is this important? Because in 1982, part of the process of dealing with Hanford was to pass a law.

The law was called the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and in that law it says, We've got a solution. We're going to collect all the high-level nuclear waste, and we have a storage facility that we're going to place it in. And that place is Yucca Mountain. Now, many of you may have heard about Yucca Mountain before. I've visited it twice. Yucca Mountain is in a desert, and it's a mountain. So I do the side-by-side comparisons here.

Right now at Hanford we have 53 million gallons of nuclear waste on site. Yucca Mountain, which is a site we designed, we picked. We studied for decades. We spent $12.5 billion. We currently have no nuclear waste there.

The nuclear waste at Hanford is stored 10 feet underground. The nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain would be stored a thousand feet underground. The nuclear waste at Hanford is 250 feet above the groundwater. The nuclear waste at Yucca will be stored a thousand feet above the water table. The nuclear waste at Hanford is a mile from the Columbia River. The closest river to Yucca Mountain is the Colorado River, which is 100 miles away.

I'll come back to this floor throughout the year and highlight different locations around the country where there's waste and start pleading with my colleagues to help us stop two people--the President of the United States and Majority Leader Harry Reid. Majority Leader Reid has blocked our ability to continue to move forward and take nuclear waste from around this country and place it underneath a mountain in a desert.

This location is exhibit number 1. There is no more compelling location in this country that cries out for this waste to be moved than Hanford. In fact, in the clean-up process, the scientific design of the casks that will be used to clear out these 53 million gallons of waste and put into storage containers, they are designed specifically for Yucca Mountain. Again, we have spent $12.5 billion to prepare this site to receive nuclear waste.

The House went on record this year on a vote in the appropriation bill for energy and water and said, yes, Yucca Mountain is still where we believe high-level nuclear waste ought to go. And that vote was 297 Members voting to increase funding to complete the safety review of the DOA application so that Yucca Mountain could move forward.

One Senator is blocking this, one Senator from the State of Nevada. But it's time for the other Senators from these other States who are affected, regardless of their party, to say, ``I don't want this high-level nuclear waste in my State. We have a Federal law to move it to underneath a mountain in a desert.'' And it's time for them to stand up and be counted. That's why this is my first trip to the well identifying one location in this country, I think the most compelling argument for Yucca Mountain, and it's not even tied to that nuclear power generating for-profit industry. It is tied to our World War II legacy and the environment and the health of not only the land here in Washington State but also the great Columbia River.

So who are we asking to stand up and be counted and help us move this? Well, we just happen to have four U.S. Senators, two from the State of Washington, two from the State of Oregon: Senator Cantwell; Senator Murray; Senator Wyden; and Senator Merkley.

Now, if you look at this site, the Columbia River, those of you who know your geography know that the Columbia River, when it gets closer to the west side of the State, separates the State of Oregon and the State of Washington, to the north. North of the Columbia is Washington State, south is Oregon.

These Senators need to step up to the plate, and these Senators need to do their job. They need to speak to the majority leader. We understand the majority leader who wants to protect the State of Nevada. So I'm not trying to lift mountains that I can't personally lift. But what I can do is start making the clarion call to Senators around this country who have high-level nuclear waste in their States when we have already spent $12.5 billion for a single repository, and as I've said numerous times, underneath a mountain in a desert.

The numbers here in Washington--on the House side, we have an overwhelming majority. In the other body, their majority is not as big as it once was. And because of that, these centers are even empowered more to be able to go to their leader and plead for their State and make the compelling argument.

Again, if you can't make it for Hanford, you can't make it for anywhere.

I'm from southern Illinois. I don't have a nuclear facility in my congressional district, although I am from the State of Illinois, and Illinois is a huge nuclear power State. We have six locations, 11 reactors. So we have high-level nuclear waste stored 40 miles from downtown Chicago.

Now, does that make sense? Does that make sense in a day when we've already spent $12 billion to prepare, locate, research a single repository that can be kept safe, secure, and stored? It doesn't make sense.

So that's why in the coming weeks you'll see other posters like this. I'll definitely keep this one. But we'll compare Yucca Mountain to downtown Chicago. We'll compare Yucca Mountain to Boston, Massachusetts. We'll compare Yucca Mountain to Savannah, Georgia.

If you live in a State and may not have a nuclear power plant, you may very well have the legacy of World War II Manhattan-type projects and nuclear waste that has to be stored elsewhere than in the place where it is today.

As the chairman of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, my congressional responsibility is that of nuclear waste. It is a challenge for this country. It is a challenge that we already have a plan to deal with. In fact, ratepayers of States that have nuclear power have been paying an additional charge on their utility bills to prepare Yucca Mountain to receive this waste.

To have one man and a President who's complicit in his design to stop this is not in the best interest of this country, and I will continue to come down to the well to fight this fight so that we take full advantage of the great resources we have and follow up on the planning and the funding that we've done for decades to have a single repository.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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