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Special Report

A Million Years?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," August 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: The new energy bill would encourage greater reliance on nuclear energy. And, while it does not create pollution, it does create spent fuel or nuclear waste. The government now has to figure out what to do with that and is being forced by the courts to come up with a plan to keep the material safe for one million years.

Keeping people safe is important, of course, but how can anyone plan for what amounts to 25,000 generations to come? For answers, we turn to Steven Milloy of the CATO Institute and founder of Junkscience.com.

Steven, thanks for joining us.

STEVEN MILLOY, CATO INSTITUTE: Jim, it’s great to be here.

ANGLE: Now, let me ask you first: I’m sure there are scientific reasons for this, but one million years? How can anyone anticipate what’s going to happen over a million years?

MILLOY: Well, obviously, no one can, and there really isn’t the scientific explanation. About 10 years ago, National Academy of Sciences sort of threw out this one million years standard, and they thought, "Well, maybe, in about a million years, there might be some sort of geological event, like an earthquake, that could disrupt this Yucca Mountain storage facility where we’re going to put spent nuclear fuel."

ANGLE: Right, this is in Nevada. And it’s the object of a lot of political back and forth.

MILLOY: Right. And then there was — originally, the standard was 10,000 years, which you would think was pretty far out there. But then there was some litigation and the court told EPA to go back to the drawing board, and it became...

ANGLE: There’s some pictures of Yucca Mountain. This is what it looks like. I mean, it is inside of a mountain.

MILLOY: Yes. It’s a mile deep. It’s 100 miles from Las Vegas in the middle of nowhere, a mile deep. It’s pretty stable. It’s pretty safe. It’s really overkill, and it’s costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

So EPA went back to the drawing board on the standard and came up with this million years. They figure, I guess, you know, that’s going to survive any court challenge.

ANGLE: Now, this was because someone said that the geological formation was probably stable for a million years?

MILLOY: Well, at least. I mean...

ANGLE: Right, right.

MILLOY: They thought, after a million years, there might be an earthquake, and so something might happen. No guarantees, but...

ANGLE: We might have to have a reappraisal after a million years.

MILLOY: But the whole thing is really ridiculous, because the radiation standards, protection standards, at Yucca Mountain are really, really exceedingly low.

ANGLE: Well, this is the — the whole issue is about exposure for people living near the site.

MILLOY: Right.

ANGLE: Now, you’ve looked into exposure. What do you find?

(LAUGHTER)

MILLOY: Well, we think these standards are really ridiculous. They’re very low. As a matter of fact, so low, we went over to the capital to measure the radiation...

ANGLE: The Capitol behind...

MILLOY: ... the Capitol building, coming out from statues and all the granite and marble. You know, it’s naturally occurring radiation.

We found that someone who works at the Capitol eight hours a day is going to be exposed to 20 times the radiation — 20 times the radiation — that comes out of Yucca Mountain in a year.

ANGLE: Wait a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

Hold on, hold on. Congress is arguing over these standards, and we’ve got all these court cases, and you’re saying somebody who works in the Congress gets 20 times more in a day?

MILLOY: Over the course of a year.

ANGLE: Over the course of a year, than you would if you were living next door to Yucca Mountain?

MILLOY: At Yucca Mountain, right. And you really can’t even measure the amount of radiation you get out of Yucca Mountain, because it’s within the natural — it’s so far within the margin of natural radiation exposure we get, it’s really immeasurable.

ANGLE: Now, what is it — there’s natural-occurring radiation, and that’s...

MILLOY: Well, there’s natural radiation...

ANGLE: It’s everywhere.

MILLOY: Yes, it comes out of ground. It comes out of the sun, cosmic radiation, radiation from, you know, stones and dirt, radon, for example, so we’re all exposed to that every day.

So the radiation from Yucca Mountain would be sort of extra radiation, but it’s so small that it’s within the natural variation of the radiation everyone’s exposed to every year.

ANGLE: Now, obviously, it’s important for people to be safe. It is important to have standards. What is the standard for exposure?

MILLOY: Well, the standard at Yucca Mountain is — it’s kind of technical — 15 milligrams per year. You go over to the Capitol, you’re going to be exposed to as much as 260 milligrams per year. The natural background exposure is about 350 milligrams. So you can see, though, Yucca Mountain is very small in there.

But, of course, this is not really about safety. I mean, we’re all concerned about everyone’s safety, and we want everyone to be safe. But this is really about bollixing up the nuclear industry, having — you know, right now, nuclear power plants have to store their spent fuel on site. The idea is to eventually be able to transport it to Yucca Mountain, bury it, you know, a mile down in the middle of nowhere, and forget about it.

ANGLE: Have it in one place.

MILLOY: Have it in one place, instead of scattered all over the country. And we do have the technology to store it safely. In fact, it is being stored safely around the country right now.

But because of politics, we want to bury it in Nevada. But the environmentalists, radical greens, anti-nuclear — you know, it’s a bunch of — collection of groups — they want the nuclear power industry shut down. And their strategy to do that is to make sure Yucca Mountain never opens so there’s no place to take the waste.

And so, as the waste builds up in nuclear power plants around the country, those places are going to have to shut down, stop operating, because they’ll have no place to take their waste. And they can’t store more of it on-site, because it’s politically unpopular.

ANGLE: Now, about 15 seconds left, did anyone ever think about, you know, in 50 or 100 years, where you should sit down and just say, "In 50 or 100 years, we’ll reconsider?" Fifteen seconds.

MILLOY: Well, that is a position of the nuclear industry. And, in fact, that is a common-sense approach. But the debate has gotten so twisted now that we’re talking about a million years. You know, that’s 200 times — recorded history is only 5,000 years old. That’s 200 times greater than that. It’s nuts.

ANGLE: All right, great. Steven Milloy, thanks very much.

MILLOY: Thanks, Jim.

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