Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2016

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SUN EDITORIAL:

A political meltdown

Republicans making desperate attempt to send radioactive waste to Nevada

Greg Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently told his staff to start phasing out their review of the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

That caused an outcry from the nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress. They claim Jaczko has overstepped his bounds and is motivated by “partisan politics” because, before being named to the commission, he was an aide to Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.

But those accusations are ridiculous. Jaczko’s decision isn’t political, it’s practical. The White House has zeroed out the budget for Yucca and is trying to withdraw the foolish Bush-era application to build the waste dump, an application made to the NRC. President Barack Obama has declared his opposition to a Yucca repository and formed a commission to study what else the nation can do with its nuclear waste instead of hauling it across the country to Nevada. Given all of that, what’s the point of the NRC spending any more money evaluating the project?

Republicans say only Congress can end the project, and they still claim that it’s good policy. How they do that with a straight face is a mystery.

The federal government has spent billions of dollars on it and only has a big hole in the ground to show for it. The science the Bush administration used to try to support the project is, at best, incomplete, and the science there has been called into question time and again. There are significant, unresolved safety concerns about the project, and Yucca Mountain is a terrible site to begin with. It’s a porous volcanic ridge, and studies have shown that it is hardly suitable to contain nuclear waste. Besides, the waste is safe where it is — at reactor sites, safely enclosed in concrete.

Yet Republicans want to spend billions more — the Energy Department estimates it could cost $100 billion — pursuing a dangerous project. And this is the party that declares itself to be fiscally responsible?

Although Republicans are quick to complain about politics, they don’t want to acknowledge that the roots of the project are steeped in it. Yucca Mountain was chosen as the proposed site for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in 1987 over several much more suitable sites because Nevada didn’t have any political clout at the time. There were better sites in other states, including locations in Texas and Washington. But those states had clout: The vice president and speaker of the House were from Texas; the majority leader in the House was from Washington. Nevada’s small congressional delegation didn’t have much muscle.

In the years since, the federal government has spent billions of dollars trying to support a poor choice, and that effort has largely been supported by the Republican Party, which has done the bidding of the nuclear industry.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada’s congressional delegation has solidly been against a Yucca repository for years and has pushed the project to the brink of defeat. We can’t imagine what would have happened had Reid lost to Sharron Angle, who would have recklessly pushed ahead with efforts to bring nuclear waste to Nevada.

It is clear that Republicans, as they prepare to take control of the House, are ramping up a last-ditch effort to push a Yucca dump through. The GOP is starting with a high-profile and what appears to be coordinated attack on Jaczko because of his ties to Reid.

House Republicans have requested the NRC turn over documents about its deliberations on Yucca, and three Republican members recently wrote a letter to the White House demanding answers about Jaczko’s actions. And a former Republican member of the NRC complained to its inspector general, calling for an investigation of Jaczko.

And the Republicans have the gall to ascribe political motivations to Jaczko?

Let’s end the charade. Republicans are playing politics once again, and they are willing to risk the nation’s safety and spend billions of dollars in the process. That’s despicable.

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