Las Vegas Sun

August 15, 2022

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Sun Editorial:

A ‘deeply flawed project,’ Yucca Mountain isn’t the answer for nuke waste

For years, the nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress have tried to shove through plans to make Nevada a nuclear waste dump, repeatedly ignoring scientific and safety concerns.

Their plans have been frustrated over the years because of the work of Nevada’s congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Now, the plans to put waste in Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, are on the verge of being extinguished. President Barack Obama has ordered his administration to quit work on it, and he created a blue ribbon commission to study alternatives for the nation’s nuclear waste.

The nuclear power industry and its supporters in Congress, however, have continued to try to push the plans forward. They should pay attention to the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future that Obama created to study how the nation should store its nuclear waste. The commission’s draft report issued last week called Yucca Mountain a “deeply flawed project.” That is putting it mildly. What has been suggested by nuclear power industry supporters is foolish and dangerous.

Under the Yucca Mountain plan, the Energy Department would send more than 77,000 tons of nuclear waste across the country via trucks, trains and barges. The shipments would last for decades, exposing generations to the deadly radioactive waste. The waste would be taken past most of the nation’s population, passing through cities and towns. It would then be shoved into Yucca Mountain — a volcanic ridge in an earthquake-prone area.

The nuclear industry has said the plans are safe, but its assurances aren’t comforting. This is the same industry that, before March, had dismissed the possibility of a nuclear power plant disaster on the scale of the one in Japan.

To hear nuclear power supporters put it, Yucca Mountain is a matter of survival of the nuclear industry. They say the power plants need someplace to send the waste. But that’s not true. Many plants are storing spent waste in massive steel-and-concrete containers known as dry casks. Those casks are safe — they withstood the disaster in Japan — and can be used to store nuclear waste for decades.

Wide-scale dry cask storage is smart. It would give scientists time to figure out a better way to handle the waste. It also would take nuclear waste off the nation’s roadways and avoid the incredible expenses of pursuing a Yucca Mountain dump.

Unfortunately, supporters of the plan for Yucca Mountain have continued their push. They even argue that the opposition to the dump is political. As we have noted before, the real politics have come in the way Congress and the nuclear industry chose Yucca Mountain. In the 1980s, Congress short-circuited a scientific search to determine a suitable way to dispose of nuclear waste. Nevada was an easy choice: It had little power in Congress at the time.

The blue ribbon commission’s draft report suggested that pushing the nuclear dump on Nevada was a mistake. It pointed to a nuclear waste plant in New Mexico as a comparison, noting that there was strong support in that state for the project. Nevadans, however, stand strongly against Yucca Mountain.

Many Yucca Mountain supporters say Nevada should embrace the plan. Some members of Congress suggested it was Nevada’s patriotic duty. Others claim the state would gain an economic benefit — from federal subsidies to jobs. But if this project is so safe and so good for the economy, why aren’t other states lining up for it? There were other states that were being considered for a nuclear waste dump before the politicians chose Nevada, so why don’t their members of Congress step up and offer their states?

The answer is simple: It’s because the plans to dump nuclear waste are terrible and dangerous. Congress should scrap Yucca Mountain and go back to the drawing board.

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