Sunday, May 15, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Republicans in Congress this past week continued their shameful crusade to turn Nevada into a nuclear waste repository by trumpeting a report that they say shows “political opposition” is the key obstacle toward building a Yucca Mountain repository.
That has been a theme for the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who on Monday released a Government Accountability Office report on the consequences of the Obama administration’s decision to scrap plans to build the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The report, which Republicans ordered, looks at the issues and costs associated with ending the project. It’s part of the Republicans’ predetermined “investigation” into the Yucca Mountain repository. Both committee Chairman Fred Upton and Rep. John Shimkus, the Republican point man on the issue, have made it clear that they think the Energy Department broke the law by shuttering the project. They say there are no “technical or safety issues” and thus, they reason, it’s all politics — the White House is trying to placate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“It is alarming for this administration to discard 30 years of research and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, not for technical and safety reasons, but rather to satisfy temporary political calculations,” Upton declared in a statement.
Republicans cited a line in the report’s summary that says, “social and political opposition to a permanent repository, not technical issues, is the key obstacle.” But how did the GAO come to that conclusion? Later in the report it references a study done for Congress in 1982, summing up, “there are ‘no insurmountable technical obstacles’ and that the ‘greatest single obstacle’ to building a repository is an erosion of public confidence in the federal government.”
However, in the three decades since then, the Energy Department studied Yucca Mountain and simply couldn’t make the plan work. There are a multitude of scientific, technical and safety issues with Yucca Mountain, which is a porous volcanic ridge in an area prone to earthquakes. The Energy Department had to keep rewriting its plans and requirements to try to make it look like Yucca Mountain was suitable.
The GAO report references several other studies that examine some of the problems. It notes that the federal government wasn’t transparent in its work at Yucca Mountain, which undercut the public’s trust.
But the support for the site was never about science, it was about politics. The nuclear industry’s supporters in Congress have long pushed the repository, ignoring sound science. In 1987 they circumvented the scientific process that was designated to seek out a nuclear waste repository for the nation. No one wanted the repository, and Nevada was chosen because the state didn’t have any political power. Now that it does, Republicans squeal about politics. It’s disgusting.
Over the past few years, Republicans have tried to make themselves into populists. They complain about how Washington doesn’t listen. They rail against federal spending and government mandates. They proclaim states’ rights. But the Yucca Mountain project shows them to be hypocrites.
The people of Nevada have told Washington time and again they don’t want a nuclear waste repository. It’s a dangerous plan that is grossly expensive. And states’ rights? The Bush administration did all it could to force nuclear waste on Nevada, and now Republicans in Congress are continuing the effort by trying to leverage their power at the behest of the influential nuclear power industry.
All of this is unnecessary. Nuclear power plants are already safely storing waste on site in hefty steel-and-concrete casks, and that can continue while the nation looks for a long-term solution. The Associated Press reported that the presidential panel studying what to do with the nation’s nuclear waste said Friday that it is likely to recommend storing waste at one or more sites — perhaps regionally — for up to 100 years. The panel, which is expected to issue a draft report in July, has talked about building local support and avoiding the politics that have made the issue so divisive.
Republicans might have trouble embracing that. It’s not political. It’s common sense.