Environmentalists and State of Nevada in Court to Challenge Yucca Mountain Radiation Standards

Coalition Charges Standards Violate Drinking Water Protection Law

WASHINGTON (January 14, 2004) -- In oral argument in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals today, environmental groups and the state of Nevada charged that the Environmental Protection Agency illegally manipulated standards for protecting groundwater around the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository site from radioactive contamination. As part of lawsuits filed against EPA in July 2001, Nevada, NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), and six other environmental groups detailed the illegality of EPA's actions and asked the court to require the agency to rewrite its groundwater standards for the site.

Lawyers for the NRDC-Nevada coalition explained to the court that EPA gerrymandered the compliance boundary of the Yucca Mountain site because the projected groundwater contamination would not meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards. To ensure the government could license the repository, EPA extended the compliance boundary to further dilute radioactivity emanating from the site. A map of the EPA's proposed groundwater standards compliance boundary shows that the agency allowed for a 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) oval boundary around the Yucca Mountain site, but extended the oval's lower right quadrant south approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) in the direction of groundwater flow to meet federal standards. NRDC and the state of Nevada also pointed out to the court that EPA, in support of its proposed boundary, argues that no one would drill a well for drinking water and irrigation in the area surrounding Yucca Mountain despite the fact there are already wells in the vicinity.

"Everyone knows Yucca Mountain leaks like a sieve," said Thomas B. Cochran, a physicist and director of NRDC's Nuclear Program. "EPA has committed outright scientific fraud in constructing its drinking water compliance boundary around the Yucca Mountain site. The agency's proposal will permit a radioactive septic field in a region that relies solely on groundwater for drinking water and irrigation."

According to Geoffrey H. Fettus, NRDC's attorney managing the case for the environmental groups, the proposed boundary standard is weaker than the standards EPA applies at other U.S. nuclear sites, and violates federal health and safety regulations. "EPA's dramatically irregular boundary line has no precedent in environmental protection," said Fettus. "It would be laughable if we weren't talking about dangerous radiation that will be around for thousands of years."

The environmental groups that have joined NRDC and the state of Nevada in the case are Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana, Citizen Alert, Nevada Desert Experience, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and Public Citizen. This case was one of a number of consolidated cases challenging aspects of the Yucca Mountain nuclear site proposal. The court heard all of the cases today.