Abandoning Yucca Mountain project a costly and irresponsible blunder

2010-03-05T00:15:00Z Abandoning Yucca Mountain project a costly and irresponsible blunder Longview Daily News
March 05, 2010 12:15 am

March 5 Daily News editorial

Once the long 2008 presidential campaign was over, we held out hope that the newly elected President Obama would eventually come to his senses and abandon a politically motivated campaign pledge to halt work on the nuclear waste repository near Nevada's Yucca Mountain. But it seems Obama has new political motivation for blocking the national repository — the re-election of Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader from Nevada.

The Obama administration last week signaled to Nevada voters that it's serious about blocking the Yucca Mountain project. Administration officials asked that the government's permit application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission be withdrawn "with prejudice," meaning the application needed to complete the nuclear repository is off the table for good.

Washington state officials were among the first to push back. On Monday, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said the state will intervene in the courts to prevent the federal government from simply walking away from this project and its decades-old promise to take possession of the nation's nuclear waste. Only Aiden County, S.C., reacted quicker, filing a lawsuit late last week. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford indicated that the state also may take legal action. We expect similar action will be taken by a number of other states where large quantities of radioactive waste awaits shipment to Yucca Mountain.

The administration's attempt to permanently abandon this project is irresponsible to the extreme. The careful research that identified the Nevada site as most suitable for the storage of the nation's nuclear waste stretches back almost 30 years. Billions have been spent to date on planning and construction work. Most irresponsible, though, is the administration's seeming indifference to the fact that there is no Plan B for the safe disposal of the estimated 70,000 tons of nuclear waste scattered around the country at 131 sites.

The federal government will remain contractually obligated to take possession of this waste, with or without the completion of the Yucca Mountain repository. The government agreed to begin taking possession of that nuclear waste by 1998. Commercial utilities agreed to pay for the repository and began collecting a fee from ratepayers to build a construction fund. Northwest ratepayers who receive nuclear power have paid about $290 million into that fund since 1984, according to Associated Press writer Shannon Dininny.

If the federal government abandons the Yucca Mountain project, as the Obama administration is seeking to do, taxpayers will be liable for billions of dollars in damages. Indeed, missing that 1998 deadline for taking possession of this nuclear waste already has cost taxpayers several hundred million dollars in damages. As recently as last week, a federal court awarded Energy Northwest nearly $57 million in damages. Energy Northwest is a public power consortium that includes the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, Wash., a commercial nuclear plant.

By some estimates, abandoning the Yucca Mountain repository could leave the federal government legally liable for up to $60 billion. It also would pretty much rule out the nuclear option that Obama has been touting of late as part of the nation's energy future. These very practical concerns ought to trump the political concerns behind the administration's latest and most alarming move to block completion of this nuclear repository.

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(6) Comments

  1. stopitnow
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    stopitnow - March 05, 2010 8:27 am
    The Obama position is not an "irresponsible blunder." It is purposeful! All of his talk about promoting nuclear power is double speak if Yucca Mountain is not funded. It will make the US incapable of resolving its energy issues as we continue to remove dams in an effort to protect fish. It will reduce our manufacturing potential even more. It is not blunder it is destructive!
  2. inside
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    inside - March 05, 2010 9:16 am
    Yucca mountain was never a very good choice for scientific reasons,extremely fractured rock, area of seismic risk, likely water table damage. Added to that the idea of storing most of the waste above ground made it a target for terrorism. There is also the problem of Yucca mountain running out of space almost as soon as it would be opened.Its capacity would be 77,000 metric tons, we currently have over 50,000 tons and by the time it would be opened we would have over 60,000 tons.
  3. Viewpoint
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    Viewpoint - March 05, 2010 10:00 am
    Yucca Mountain WAS the scientific choice. It was not a perfect choice but it was the best. I have yet to hear of a better location for scientific, political or monetary reasons.
  4. inside
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    inside - March 06, 2010 10:13 am
    No, Yucca mountain was not the scientific choice. In 1987 the DOE was instructed to ONLY consider Yucca Mountain. All of the other sites under consideration would have stored the waste UNDER the water table not above it. All the other sites were not in areas of moderate seismic activity with highly fractured rock. The site in New Mexico would have stored them deeper, in salt caverns below the water table. It was a political decision. It was also the most expensive choice.
  5. Viewpoint
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    Viewpoint - March 06, 2010 3:00 pm
    After extensive disposal studies and reviewing various sites the DOE was instructed by Congress in 1987 to focus on Yucca Mountain for further suitability study. In effect DOE was told to quit waffling and do something.
  6. oldschool
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    oldschool - March 07, 2010 7:00 pm
    Interesting stuff -- I was also under the impression that YM was THE choice. I think this whole thing by the current administration is nothing more than misdirection... calling for nuclear plants to be built while at the same time ending the consideration of YM once and for all. Can you say "payback to Harry Reid?"
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