We Should Demand an Answer Nowby Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, July 5, 2011
Obama punts on Yucca Mountain; the nation can't afford another 50-year wait
Developing safe long-range plans for dealing with nuclear waste is one of the nation's worst pollution dilemmas and also a major obstacle to new nuclear-power reactors. The federal decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada is foolish and shortsighted.
Studies of Yucca Mountain as a remote and potentially safe place to store high-level waste - mainly the spent but highly toxic fuel rods from reactors - began in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter. Carter believed the nation's energy future would be best served with a multipronged approach that included conservation and more atomic generating plants. Ronald Reagan and subsequent presidents continued this policy direction.
In our vast nation, it was believed there must be somewhere remote enough and sufficiently geologically stable to serve as the permanent storage site for the byproducts of nuclear power production. Billions of dollars have been spent in the well-justified belief that Yucca Mountain is one such viable location.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama have opposed the Yucca facility, preferring to continue piecemeal storage of dangerous material at dozens of locations around the county. This includes 53 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in large, leaky underground tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, east of us on the Columbia River.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a request to stop the federal Department of Energy (DOE) from unilaterally terminating the Yucca Mountain development process.
Washington state officials and the state Department of Ecology have been conscientious in pushing for responsible federal action on cleaning up Hanford and finding a permanent answer to the waste question. Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said last week that his office will look for ways to continue the fight.
According to McKenna, the Court of Appeals recognized the federal government's legal responsibility to provide for disposal of the nation's high level waste and that Washington's concerns regarding the federal government's commitment to that responsibility are reasonable.
Everyone who lives along the Columbia River should speak loudly on this issue. If not deep inside Yucca Mountain, where is our national government going store this deadly legacy? We demand an answer now, not after 50 more years of politically motivated procrastination.
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