Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Kill the zombie

Enough politics; get rid of Yucca Mountain plan once and for all

Nevada’s congressional delegation has worked diligently for more than a quarter of a century to kill the federal government’s plan to build a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

With the help of President Barack Obama, who has honored a campaign promise to Nevadans to work to shut the project down, Yucca Mountain has been at death’s door for several years.

But pushed by the nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress, Yucca Mountain continues to stick around. And last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives once again tried to revive it.

As Karoun Demirjian reported in the Sun, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee rolled out a budget proposal that includes $25 million for work on Yucca Mountain. An accompanying statement took a shot at the Obama administration, labeling its opposition to Yucca Mountain as “politically motivated,” claiming that it “runs contrary to the will of the Congress and the American people.”

So, the effort to kill Yucca Mountain is “politically motivated” but the effort to support this flawed boondoggle isn’t?

Risibly, Yucca Mountain’s supporters have blamed opposition on politics for years, trying to dismiss Nevada’s valid concerns. The fact is that support for the project has always been rooted in politics, pressed by the wealthy nuclear industry.

The original selection of a site for a nuclear waste site excised places that matched specifications but were in politically powerful states. The most notable moment came in 1987 with the “Screw Nevada” bill, which was brought at the behest of members of Congress who didn’t want to see nuclear waste in their states. The bill, which passed despite Nevada’s objection, short-circuited a selection process by naming Yucca Mountain the nation’s nuclear dump.

In 2002, again over Nevada’s objection, Yucca Mountain was pushed ahead. Even though it hadn’t completed all of its preliminary work, the Bush administration asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the dump, and members of Congress supported by the nuclear industry approved.

And Nevada is being political?

Supporters of the plan say Nevada has plenty to gain economically from the project by negotiating for benefits from the government, and they say there would be jobs that would come with Yucca Mountain.

Unfortunately, those arguments gained some traction in the state during the recession. But it’s important to remember that no one has ever promised money to the state; in fact, some members of Congress have said Nevada has a patriotic duty to take the waste — for free.

And what would the economic impact really be? After some short-term construction jobs, how many people does it take to baby-sit radioactive waste?

So, those arguments don’t work. But that hasn’t stopped the Republicans in Congress, who also try to take a more noble tack. They point to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which labels Yucca Mountain the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Thus, the Obama administration is acting contrary to the law and should fund the dump.

But, by that logic, Republicans would be supporting and funding Obamacare, wouldn’t they? It is the law. The Supreme Court upheld it. So, why have they voted more than three dozen times in the House to repeal it?

Instead of wasting all of that time, the Republicans should look at the facts. Yucca Mountain is just what they claim Obamacare to be: a multibillion-dollar albatross, terrible policy and a gross intrusion of the federal government on a state’s rights.

So, Republicans should consider doing something fruitful and take the nonpolitical recommendation of a blue-ribbon commission that recently said the nation should get past Yucca Mountain and try something else.

It’s beyond time to quit playing politics and kill this project once and for all.

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