Politics and nuclear waste

Politics and nuclear waste

May 31st, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Probably not many communities would be eager to have the nation's stockpile of nuclear waste stored close to them. Although the United States has an excellent track record for nuclear safety, there's just a certain hesitation about the waste.

For that reason, Congress long ago picked an extremely isolated area of Nevada as a storage site for America's nuclear waste. The government did thorough research and spent billions of dollars to prepare the location, known as Yucca Mountain. It is about 100 miles from Las Vegas.

But in 2009, the Obama administration decided it didn't want Yucca Mountain to be the location for nuclear waste storage. So it canceled funding for the site, closed Yucca Mountain's administrative offices in Las Vegas and laid off workers involved in the project.

Many Republicans suspected that politics was behind the move. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opposed the project, so the decision to end it was seen as a political favor to him by the administration.

Now, it's not only Republicans who believe that politics was behind the decision. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, has reached the same conclusion.

The decision to halt the Yucca Mountain project "was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons," the GAO stated in a recent report.

The agency said the closing was a hurried process as well.

"Several [Department of Energy] officials told us that they had never seen such a large program with so much pressure to close down so quickly," the report said.

It's bad enough that political concerns outranked concerns about our nation's nuclear waste storage. But it gets worse. The GAO report determined that shutting down Yucca Mountain means it could take several decades before the United States comes up with an alternative means of storing the waste.

"It is alarming for this administration to discard 30 years of research and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, not for technical or safety reasons, but rather to satisfy temporary political calculations," U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement.

Now, the administration says it has formed a "blue ribbon" panel to look for other places to store the waste.

But massive amounts of research had already shown Yucca Mountain to be the right choice. It's regrettable that politics will delay proper nuclear storage, and cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.