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Public Statements

Yucca Mountain

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DUNCAN of South Carolina. Mr. Speaker, everyone knows that Washington isn't very popular right now, and a big reason why is that too often our leaders make decisions that lack common sense. When we need to cut spending, Washington finds a way to spend more. When we need to create jobs, Washington piles on new regulations that put Americans out of work. When we spend billions of dollars to create a safe, permanent storage facility for our country's nuclear waste, politics gets in the way, and that facility is shut down.

Like millions of Americans across the country, I'm tired that politics is getting in the way, and I'm looking to bring some common sense back to this Republic.

And as you know, Mr. Speaker, there's no better example of putting politics before country than the case of Yucca Mountain. Yucca Mountain is a multibillion-dollar project that was supposed to be the solution for storing our country's nuclear materials. Ratepayers in States like South Carolina, ratepayers like my constituents, have poured billions of dollars into the development of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository.

Mr. Speaker, this administration needs to understand that America runs by the rule of law, and depositing our nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is the law of the land. This administration does not get to make willy-nilly decisions to benefit supporters without congressional approval. And when Congress spoke, in the National Waste Policy Act, it made Yucca Mountain the law of the land.

I was deeply disappointed when the Presidential candidates were recently asked about Yucca Mountain. I was astonished that these good folks would echo the failed rhetoric of Senator Harry Reid. And I would remind all the Presidential candidates of the Federal Government's promise to construct a long-term storage facility for the legacy weapons materials temporarily being stored in South Carolina. And I would remind them that this is the law of the land. I suspect that many South Carolina voters, including myself, will expect to hear the Presidential candidates' plan to solve this problem during their next visit to the Palmetto State.

But let's talk about the states' rights aspect of this. Where is South Carolina's right to be rid of this waste? This is a federally created problem, the residual waste of our Cold War weapons programs. Whole towns in my district were relocated by the Federal Government to create the Savannah River site. I'm not saying that we don't want the Savannah River site to continue the important nuclear nonproliferation work of the Nation. And I commend NNSA's recent announcement concerning the conversion of some of the plutonium material into mixed oxide fuel for commercial reactors. What I am saying is that the Nation needs to do right by South Carolina and fulfill the promise to take care of the radioactive waste and get it out of our State.

Yucca Mountain is a geologically stable location; it's the right location for the job. It doesn't get much rain, it's in the middle of nowhere; and when it does rain, the arid climate evaporates the water. But let's take, for instance, that it may rain a lot one day. For leakage to happen at Yucca Mountain would require that little bit of water that doesn't evaporate to transpose through a thousand feet of granite-like rock. And then it's going to get to our concrete vault, and inside that concrete vault are stainless steel canisters. So the water erodes and transfers through a thousand feet of granite rock, through the concrete, through the stainless steel, and it comes in contact with radioactive glass, glassified material that it's got to erode. And then the water has to transfer that material through more stainless steel, through more concrete, through another thousand feet of nonporous rock, down to an aquifer that is a closed system.

This is why Yucca Mountain is the right place to do the job. No one thinks that rolling fields next to a river that is a water source for two States, as it is at Savannah River site, is a long-term answer to nuclear waste disposal. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can deal with the real problem.

Now the Department of Energy's blue ribbon commission is circulating a draft report on the future of America's nuclear waste, including the nuclear waste currently being temporarily stored at the Savannah River site. The Savannah River site can only be a short-term home for this waste. The best long-term outlook for the waste of this sort is in a deep geological site, hence the need for Yucca Mountain. The waste stored at Savannah River site can be processed for a number of purposes, but ultimately this waste needs to go deep underground.

Mr. Speaker, I urge representative Lee Hamilton and General Brent Scowcroft, the cochairs of the blue ribbon commission, to reconsider their draft report to include Yucca Mountain as the long-term disposal site that Congress mandated.

Americans have already given billions of dollars to the State of Nevada for the construction of a safe, long-term storage site for nuclear material. President Obama and Senator Reid shouldn't be able to have it both ways; Nevada must either rebate the billions of dollars already spent on Yucca Mountain or stand out of the way and allow the facility to open for business. It would create jobs in the State of Nevada. South Carolina has unfairly carried the burden for storing nuclear material for decades already. It's time for this waste to move on.

May God continue to bless America.

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