View Full Version : Editorial: Nuclear Delay Is Wasteful

03-15-2009, 03:41 AM
Nuclear Delay Is Wasteful

Published: Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
Link (http://www.theledger.com/article/20090314/NEWS/903145005/1036?Title=Nuclear-Delay-Is-Wasteful)

The Obama administration announced this month that it will not use the high-level nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

That facility was designed for and capable of storing highly radioactive material. And it is engineered to hold this dangerous material without leaking for 10,000 years.

Cost to U.S. taxpayers: about $10 billion. (Did we mention that the site, selected by Congress 22 years ago, is ready to accept material, but sections still remain unfinished?)

Obama's new energy secretary, Steven Chu, told a Senate committee that the facility at Yucca Mountain is no longer an option for the nation's nuclear waste storage.

There are now more than 100 nuclear reactors in the nation.

The site was supposed to start accepting their waste more than 10 years ago. But the president made it a campaign promise to shut down the site.

And last year, the state, which hadn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, voted for Barack Obama.

There is no reason not to use Yucca Mountain other than politics. It is properly designed and constructed for that purpose. Asked at the Senate hearing to cite any problems with Yucca Mountain, Chu said, "I think we can do a better job."


So what is the administration's alternative plan for high-level nuclear waste?

It doesn't have one. Chu says a plan will be developed.

The energy secretary didn't mention what this decision means for the nation.

So instead of going to the underground Yucca Mountain facility - specifically designed to handle spent nuclear fuel - the nation will continue to spread it around to some 120 above-ground sites around the nation.

It means that we get to keep the nation's dangerous, highly radioactive plutonium supply in facilities that were never designed or built for long-term storage of this material.

For about a decade, the U.S. government has been shipping plutonium from weapons facilities to a South Carolina site near the Savannah River.

The material was supposed to be there temporarily.

Part of it was supposed to be reprocessed into fuel for commercial reactors, a controversial program that is behind schedule and may never happen.

Part of it was to be sent to Yucca Mountain.

Now it appears that the material will be kept in a facility located on a major river that isn't suited to this purpose instead of using a facility located, designed and built specifically to store this material.

This foolish decision endangers more than the Palmetto State.

In addition to surplus plutonium, Yucca Mountain was supposed to accept the spent fuel rods from commercial nuclear reactors.


That high-level radioactive waste is accumulating at commercial nuclear power plants and other reactors across the nation.

Because the White House is unwilling to use the only facility in the nation appropriate for the storage of this material, this high-level nuclear waste will be stockpiled at inappropriate facilities in communities across the country.

As The New York Times recently reported, the courts have already awarded about $1 billion to utility companies that have had to store their wastes after signing contracts with the federal government to take it.

Attorneys involved said with more delays, that figure could go into the several billions of dollars.

Moreover, the nuclear industry has said it may seek the return of the $22 billion that it paid the Energy Department - but has not yet been spent - for the establishment of a waste repository.

This is also a blow to Obama's own desire for cleaner energy and reduced global warming. Nuclear power is the current way to produce more electricity without increasing global warming, and the White House just made it harder to expand nuclear power.

Obama and Chu need to reconsider this decision. The nation's residents - more than 161 million of them live within 75 miles of a storage site - should demand it.