Lawmakers Should Challenge Proposal
by Editorial Board
The Obama administration is proposing to take $115 million Congress appropriated this year to obtain a federal license for the national nuclear waste repository near Nevada's Yucca Mountain and use it instead to shut down the project. Five House members have rightly challenged this end run around congressional intent in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, according to Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick.
Washington Republican Doc Hastings and Democrats Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee, and South Carolina Democrats John Spratt and James Clyburn also are among seven representatives sponsoring a House resolution taking the administration to task for its decision in late February to withdraw the application for a permit, effectively scrapping the Yucca Mountain project.
This push back may well be a waste of the congressmen's time and energies. We're not sure how many of their colleagues will rally to support the resolution or call the administration on its questionable use of money appropriated further this project. No other states have quite so much at stake in the completion of this national repository as do Washington and South Carolina. Hanford nuclear reservation in eastern Washington has tons of radioactive waste that, absent the repository, will remain at the reservation. South Carolina, with its Savannah River nuclear facility, is similarly concerned about seeing the Yucca Mountain repository completed.
Yet, we would think many in Congress recognize the shortsighted folly walking away from this project after investing so many years and so much money in moving it forward. Don't be fooled by administration rhetoric. The decision to abandon Yucca Mountain was not based on science. It was purely political. For obvious reasons, the project has never been popular in Nevada, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid faces a tough race for re-election next fall. President Obama aims to help him by giving the Yucca Mountain project its last rites.
The president's thinking on Yucca Mountain is that simple - and that irresponsible.
The science is solid. The careful research that identified the Nevada site as suitable for the storage of the nation's nuclear waste goes back almost three decades. Billions have been spent to date on planning and construction work. Most concerning about the administration's decision is that there is no Plan B for the safe disposal of the estimated 70,000 tons radioactive waste at Hanford, Savannah River and 131 commercial nuclear reactors around the nation.
If that doesn't sway Congress, perhaps the dollar cost of saving Harry Reid's job will. The federal government made a legally binding promise to take ownership of nuclear waste accumulating at commercial utilities. In return, the utilities agreed to help pay for the repository and began collecting a surcharge from ratepayers for that purpose. The contract called for the government to begin taking the waste in 1998. Missing that deadline already has cost taxpayers several hundred million in legal damages. Only a month ago, a federal court awarded Energy Northwest nearly $57 million in damages.
By some estimates, walking away from the Yucca Mountain project could leave taxpayers liable for up to $60 billion in damages. Is the Senate majority leader worth that cost? President Obama apparently thinks so.
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