State Journal Register

July 9, 2002

Durbin expected to vote for nuclear waste site 
Senator:_Safer storage methods, not political pressure, changed his views 


WASHINGTON - In an election-year turnabout, Sen. Dick Durbin plans to vote this week in favor of establishing a high-level nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, had voted against the site in 1997 and 2000, citing his concerns about the environment and transportation safety.

The Senate is expected to vote on the issue as early as today.

"He's under enormous pressure right now," said Pierre Sadik, an attorney for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization that opposes the Yucca Mountain site.

If Durbin switches his vote, Sadik said it will be seen "as caving in to industry."

Exelon Corp., which operates 11 nuclear reactors at six locations in Illinois, including Clinton, recently has published newspaper ads in the state and on Capitol Hill urging Durbin to support the Yucca Mountain site.

Durbin, who is seeking re-election this fall, has been criticized by his Republican opponent, state Rep. Jim Durkin of Westchester, for his previous opposition to the Nevada storage site.

A Durbin spokesman denied the position change came as a result of political pressure.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., previously has voted in favor of the Yucca Mountain site and is expected to do so again.

Illinois has more than 5,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stored temporarily near its nuclear plants. Supporters say it would be safer to have the material in a central location. But environmentalists and other critics question the safety of transporting large quantities of radioactive waste on trains and trucks through 44 states. Illinois is a major transportation crossroads. Much of the waste shipped from other states to Nevada likely would cross its borders.

Durbin refused to take questions on the issue Monday.

However, in an op-ed piece written for today's newspapers, Durbin wrote radiation and groundwater contamination standards adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency are stricter than those that were contained in the previous bills before the Senate.

"No site will ever be perfect for the storage of high-level nuclear waste, but I believe the studies which have already been conducted and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review still to come provide sufficient assurances that Yucca Mountain is the most appropriate site available and should be used as the permanent national
nuclear waste repository," Durbin wrote.

However, he stated he still is concerned about the safety of transporting the nuclear waste across the country to Nevada.

Illinois would rank sixth in the number of rail shipments and seventh in the number of truck shipments of nuclear waste under different scenarios depicted by the Energy Department.

"Unless we scrutinize safety factors and security risks, the large-scale transportation of radioactive materials has the potential to cause a host of serious challenges to cities and communities along shipping routes," Durbin wrote. "This issue is all the
more important in light of the terrorist threats we are likely to face in the years ahead."

Durbin said he would introduce a bill to create a federal safety program that would require the casks that are used to transport the waste to be tested to ensure they can  withstand intense fires or high-speed collisions. He also is proposing that states be
given two weeks advance notice of all shipments and that all barge shipments be banned.