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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

High Level Radioactive Waste

To reduce the grave and unacceptable risks posed by the existing and continued production of high-level nuclear waste without a demonstrated means of final disposition, the Sierra Club supports federal assumption of responsibility for the long-term, least hazardous isolation of spent nuclear fuel and high-level wastes, as mandated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the cost of such disposition to be borne by the waste generators. Because of deficiencies in the act and in its implementation by the Department of Energy, the attainment of the fundamental safety objectives central to the federal nuclear waste isolation program is threatened.

The Sierra Club therefore urges the following specific congressional and administrative actions to remedy this situation:

  1. The site selection schedule must be extended as necessary by Congress to provide sufficient time to resolve the scientific and technical uncertainties that threaten successful development of a safe high-level radioactive waste repository.
  2. The number of repository sites under consideration for the first repository must be increased. Such sites shall provide high geological predictability. Non-federal as well as federal lands shall be considered. Sites that endanger natural resources must be excluded from consideration.
  3. Careful environmental review must provide the basis for initial site selections. The selection of candidate sites shall not begin until all required reviews and assessments are completed. Site evaluation shall include in situ measurement at the proposed repository depth of relevant geological, geophysical, and hydrological parameters. The selection of the first site shall not occur until site characterization is complete for all candidate sites. The final site selection shall be independently reviewed by the Geological Survey and by the National Academy of Sciences.
  4. Transportation hazards and distances should be considered and kept as low as possible in the selection of sites. Specific routes shall minimize the possibility of human exposure in the event of an accident and should not override local and state ordinances and laws. We further urge specific congressional action which will permit state and local statutes and ordinances to apply to route selection.
  5. Appropriately trained personnel and adequate emergency equipment shall be provided along specified transport routes. Shipments shall be monitored to assure acceptable external radiation levels.
  6. Site evaluation contractors shall be ineligible for site development contracts. The appropriate congressional committees shall ensure that considerations of gain do not enter as a factor in site selections.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 5, 1984


  1. The Sierra Club believes that the first-round repository sites, the three finalists identified by the Department of Energy (DOE) as of May 1986, and the guidelines under which they were identified, are inadequate to assure the siting of a safe, technically adequate, and environmentally sound repository for the permanent isolation of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW).
  2. Research efforts to explore and identify potential repository sites should continue and should not be constrained or hindered by the arbitrary 1998 deadline of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
  3. In view of DOE's mishandling of the HLRW program, its inherent conflict of interest, and the need for public credibility in the search for a permanent resolution to the HLRW problem, alternatives to DOE management should be explored.
  4. The Sierra Club believes that, pending the establishment of a permanent repository, interim storage can best be accomplished through the dry storage of spent fuel at the site of generation, except that when there is a clear and present danger, spent fuel should be transferred to a more stable reactor site for storage. For the long term, a geologic repository, selected according to rigorous criteria, presently appears to represent the safest method of isolation of high-level radioactive waste.
  5. The obvious difficulty of assuring the permanent isolation of HLRW from the environment confirms the Sierra Club in its belief that the generation of further HLRW should be curtailed.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 2-3, 1987

Monitored Retrievable Storage of High-Level Radioactive Waste

The Sierra Club finds the monitored retrievable storage facility (MRS) for high-level radioactive waste (HLRW), as proposed by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), is unnecessary, adds increased transportation and handling risks to the overall HLRW management system, diverts energies of OCRWM's personnel from their main mission of developing a permanent HLRW repository, wastes money of the Nuclear Waste Fund, may become the de facto final, above-ground repository and possibly, the preferred site for reprocessing the nation's HLRW.

  1. In the short term, the Sierra Club opposes authorization and appropriations for DOE's MRS proposal.
  2. The Sierra Club recommends that the provisions and implementation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) be investigated by special commission and recommendations be made at the conclusion of that investigation to amend the NWPA, including the following:

a. Delete the MRS from the nation's HLRW management system;

b. Instruct the DOE's OCRWM, more explicitly than in the 1982 NWPA, that its mission of priority is to develop and operate a permanent HLRW repository which will be safe for humans and the environment, and that its decisions must be based on scientific and technical grounds, not political expediency;

c. Require safe storage of commercial HLRW at the site of origin until a permanent repository becomes operational, with dry cask storage for spent fuel or a safer method to be used to extend on-site capacity when fuel pool storage has been fully utilized; and

d. Mandate the DOE, in the absence of adequate experience, to demonstrate by destructive testing to the limit, that components for transport and storage of HLRW are reliable and safe.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 2-3, 1987

"Temporary" Storage of Foreign Spent Fuel Rods

The Sierra Club is, at this time, opposed to permitting foreign nuclear spent fuel rods to be returned to this country for "temporary" storage.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, November 5-6, 1977

Temporary Nuclear Storage Pools

In the absence of a viable, safe, permanent solution to the radioactive waste management problem, the proposal by the federal government to store centrally spent nuclear fuel represents a federal subsidy to private industry and merely a change in location of the waste. The Sierra Club is deeply concerned about the need for a timely, permanent resolution of this critical problem and opposes the establishment of temporary centralized spent nuclear fuel repositories to which spent fuel, currently stored in temporary power plant storage ponds, is transferred, unless the establishment of such temporary repositories is an integral part of a viable, safe, permanent disposal system for such wastes. The potential for diversion or accidental breach of containment during transport to the repositories is part of the Sierra Club concern.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 6-7, 1978

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