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Nuclear Waste and Nuclear Weapons

Congressman Matheson knows firsthand that government deception during the era of nuclear weapons testing cost thousands of Utahns their health and their lives from exposure to radioactive fallout. He is determined that the government never be allowed to take us down that path again. Utah is not a dumping ground for foreign radioactive waste, nor is it the place for our country to dump its most lethal nuclear waste. Matheson seeks to hold the federal government accountable, whether it involves disclosing the risks of radioactive contamination or safely cleaning up the radioactive waste left behind that poses a threat to public health, safety or the environment.

Nuclear Waste Storage

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) has issued its draft report  after a year of listening to testimony from experts and stakeholders. Its mission is to recommend a new strategy for managing long term storage of the highly-radioactive spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. In August 2011, Congressman Matheson wrote to Energy Secretary Chu expressing concern about consolidated interim storage.  Utah is home to the only interim storage site currently licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—the Goshute Indian Reservation location in Tooele County’s west desert. This ill-conceived location is overwhelmingly opposed by Utahns due to the safety, environmental and economic risks.  Matheson’s letter asks that the BRC reconsider the proposition of off-site, consolidated interim storage when the real need is for a permanent, long-term repository for the waste. Read Matheson’s letter here.
After the Blue Ribbon Commission issued its final report, Matheson again wrote to the Energy Secretary, with concerns that Utah would become a de facto "consolidated interim storage" site.  Matheson asked why the use of hardened onsite storage wasn't seriously considered and requested more clarification about what a "consent-based approach" prior to site selection would entail.  Read Matheson's letter here.

Moab Tailings Clean Up

A 16-million ton pile of radioactive waste sits next to the Colorado River in Moab, a toxic relict of a dismantled uranium mill. After more than 10 years of study the Department of Energy (DOE) announced its decision to remove the material to a stable, secure site, after scientists determined that it was a question of “when, not if” a major flood washes the radioactive waste into the river. That would harm not only Moab residents but it would contaminate the drinking water for 25 million downstream users. Congressman Matheson included language in a defense bill that establishes a cleanup deadline of 2019 and he is holding DOE accountable to safely and efficiently complete its remediation by that date. As of the summer of 2011, 4 million tons of tailings were removed from the pile.  Read Matheson’s letter to DOE Secretary Chu, urging that the cleanup stay on schedule to meet the 2019 deadline.
In April 2012, Matheson raises questions about a new five-year contract for Moab tailings cleanup that results in a nine-month-on, three-month-off work schedule.  Read Matheson's letter to DOE Secretary Chu.

Banning Foreign Waste

Any country possessing the technology for nuclear power is capable of disposing of its own radioactive waste. With increasing demand for low-level radioactive waste storage domestically and dwindling domestic space, it is neither Utah’s nor the United States’ interest to become the destination for foreign waste. Congressman Matheson introduced—and passed in the House in 2009—the RID Act which would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing a license to import low-level radioactive waste to the U.S. or specific radioactive waste streams exempted from regulation by the NRC. The law would prevent situations like a recent effort to import 20,000 tons of Italian waste, for processing and then permanent disposal of 1,600 tons of that waste in Utah.  The U.S. Senate did not vote on the legislation.  Matheson has reintroduced the RID Act in the current session of Congress.

Nuclear Waste Blending

Blending waste involves mixing higher- and lower-concentration radioactive waste.  This option has emerged after a primary disposal site in South Carolina for Class B (hazardous for up to 300 years) and Class C (hazardous for up to 500 years) closed in 2008.  Utah law prohibits the storage of Class B and Class C waste, with only Class A allowed at the disposal facility near Clive in the west desert. Congressman Matheson supports state regulators, state officials and Utah citizens who want to maintain rules governing disposal of low-level-radioactive waste that support Utah’s law against “hotter” nuclear waste.  Matheson has raised questions and concerns in correspondence with the NRC about proposals to store large volumes of commercially blended radioactive waste.  The NRC has undertaken a rule-making process regarding scientific and technical issues about the safe storage of this waste that is expected to be completed in 2012.
When the Utah agency charged wtih protecting Utahns from radiation hazards decided to allow up to 40,000 cubic feet of blended waste into the Clive, Utah facility, Matheson voiced concern.  In a letter to the Utah Division of Radiation Control, Matheson noted that the practice of waste blending appears to be a back-door means to dispose of 'hotter' levels of radioactive waste.
Nuclear Weapons and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011

The federal government told the public it was safe from nuclear weapons testing when, in fact, it knew there were risks and only scheduled testing when prevailing winds blew the fallout in the least populated direction, which was southern Utah.

The U.S. conducted over 900 domestic nuclear weapons test, both atmospheric and underground, at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 until 1992. Many who were exposed to high levels of radioactive fallout—commonly known as “downwinders”—lived in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Idaho and other Western states. A 1997 National Cancer Institute Study found that fallout also traveled across the country, with some counties in Kansas, New York, Iowa and Vermont receiving high levels of radioactive fallout.

After years of denial the government ultimately admitted culpability for its deception, following Congressional hearings in the 1980s. Additional pressure resulted in passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which among other things paid financial awards to victims. Matheson supports full funding for RECA and has helped lead the fight to expand it. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to expand and equalize the compensation provided to “downwinders”, uranium miners, millers and ore haulers, whose health and lives were sacrificed as our country fought the Cold War.

Safety for Americans from Nuclear Weapons Testing Act

Radioactive fallout from the nuclear bomb tests of the Cold War era traveled to every state in the nation and protecting Americans from radiation exposure is a national issue.  In response, Congressman Matheson has introduced the Safety for Americans from Nuclear Weapons Testing Act.  Among other things, the Act requires a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to any resumption of nuclear weapons testing in Nevada; Congressional authorization for resumption of weapons testing, public notification prior to any test and independent radiation monitoring with all data and reports available to the public.

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