Las Vegas Sun

December 13, 2017

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Yucca fight not over

Nuclear industry’s supporters not yet ready to concede defeat of waste dump

This month there was plenty of relief in Nevada when the U.S. Energy Department formally withdrew its application to build a high-level nuclear waste dump just 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. In doing so, President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge that he would do what he could to stop the Yucca Mountain project if elected to the White House.

The Democratic president’s move was a dramatic reversal of the nuclear-waste policy of President George W. Bush, a Republican who was hellbent on burying 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada, a decision meant to curry favor with the influential nuclear power industry.

The industry’s supporters, including in Congress and in statehouses, want to block Obama’s decision. Some are planning lawsuits and others are vowing to oppose the move when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission takes up the Obama administration’s request to withdraw the license application.

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is one of the politicians who has been particularly nasty in his criticism of Obama’s decision. In case you forgot, Sanford is the “family values” politician who cheated on his wife with a woman in Argentina, an affair in which taxpayers helped foot his travel bill. One would think Sanford would make better use of his time, seeking to rehabilitate his tawdry image, but apparently not. Instead, he would rather sling mud at Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Regarding the Obama administration’s decision to end the Yucca project, Sanford wrote a memo last month to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to remind him that South Carolina had the nation’s third-largest amount of nuclear waste. Sanford claimed “it is a blatantly political move completely contrary to the soaring rhetoric of the Obama campaign, and it represents nothing more than what many would see as a Chicago-style political payoff. To detractors, this political capitulation comes as no surprise as the site of Obama’s reversal is Nevada — home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

First of all, Obama was clear in the campaign that, based on the science, he concluded that Yucca Mountain would be a terrible place to store nuclear waste. He made no secret about it, and there was no payoff. Here is what happened: Someone running for the highest office in the land made a promise to a state’s voters and kept his word. Imagine that. It goes without saying that Sanford could use a refresher course on values and the sanctity of keeping a vow.

It also needs to be said that Yucca Mountain is about the worst place someone could think of to permanently bury man’s deadliest waste. It is far removed from where most of the country’s nuclear waste is generated — in the East and the South — a factor that would require the dangerous transportation of this waste thousands of miles across the nation, through cities and towns. Yucca Mountain, which is actually a volcanic ridge, sits in a highly active seismic region, hardly the place to bury high-level nuclear waste. And it has been determined that the waste can safely be stored where it’s produced for a hundred years and more — plenty of time to determine how to dispose of the waste other than at Yucca Mountain.

Although Nevadans are closer than ever to seeing the Yucca Mountain project killed once and for all, the nuclear power industry still has a lot of supporters trying to turn our state into a dumping ground. That is why it is so crucial that we have elected officials like Harry Reid and Barack Obama in office today and in the future, to fend off these attacks — not only for Nevada’s sake but also for the nation’s as well.

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