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Yucca Mountain on the horizon for GOP candidates

Yucca Mountain on the horizon for GOP candidates

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Jan. 24 Daily News editorial

The presidential debates have featured discussions most recently addressing the Republican candidates' tax returns, how quickly they'd repeal President Obama's Affordable Health Care Acr and personal claims made by ex-spouses. One topic missing from the recent debates in South Carolina, but not from the campaigns' radar, is the nation's nuclear waste storage plan, which also hits home with Washingtonians.

Much of the nation's nuclear waste was once "earmarked" (always a favorite word in Washington, D.C.) for the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, where provisions were made for permanent housing and burial of millions of gallons of contaminated material. Stockpiles at the Savannah River site near Aiken, S.C., and Washington's Hanford site are among those in indefinite limbo until Yucca Mountain is opened or a new nuclear waste storage facility can be approved.

Congress designated Yucca Mountain in 2002 as the nation's sole current repository site for deep geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel. In early 2010, however, Obama and the Department of Energy announced they would discontinue funding for the project in the face of local opposition in Nevada, home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a swing state that went for Obama in 2008.

The decision sparked debate that continues today. Supporters of the Yucca Mountain project have criticized Obama for what they feel is a politically motivated decision. Others insist the DOE does not have the authority to unilaterally terminate a project approved by Congress and President George W. Bush in 2002. A report from the U.S. Committee on Science, Space, and Technology concluded the administration's decision to shut down the Yucca Mountain project had no scientific basis.

For the Hanford site, and other waste-storage locations across the nation, the stakes are high.

We should learn where most of the surviving Republicans stand on the issue when the GOP primary/caucus trail moves through Nevada for caucuses on Feb. 4. Thus far, we've heard Mitt Romney and Ron Paul claim Yucca Mountain is a "states' rights" issue, implying Nevadans have the right to keep it closed. Newt Gingrich has said "the state has to be willing to accept it," but also that the final decision needed to be based on "sound science." Rick Santorum voted in favor of the Yucca Mountain project as a senator from Pennsylvania and doesn't seem to have changed his thinking.

Through the years, The Daily News has supported the Yucca Mountain project and we still do. Should a state be able to determine if the nation's nuclear repository can or can not be in located within its borders? The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 appears to reserve final authority on the question for Congress, which had its say 10 years ago.

While the administration and DOE have dismissed Yucca Mountain as a viable nuclear waste repository, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna hasn't. He's joined his counterpart in South Carolina, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and others in challenging the DOE's authority to abandon the project.

Look for more on Yucca Mountain over the next weeks and months, both in the courts and on the campaign trail. As for the November election, the presidential candidate who presents the best long-term solution for nuclear waste storage and/or disposal — whether it be in Nevada or elsewhere — will have our attention.


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