Their Opinion: Going nowhere on U.S. nuclear waste

Thursday August 22, 2013

The Denver Post writes:

A federal court delivered a much-deserved rebuke of the Obama administration last week for its handling of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

It turns out the administration can't simply ignore a law it doesn't like -- or at least couldn't in this case. If the law says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must review Yucca's license application, then that's what the NRC must do.

But make no mistake: The court decision has not in any meaningful way revived the site as a potential depository for the nation's spent nuclear fuel. Indeed, we think it mainly highlights the dysfunctional state of civilian nuclear policy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got it right in his reaction. "The place is locked up, it's padlocked," he said. "Nothing is happening with Yucca Mountain."

As you might guess, the Nevada senator is delighted with this paralysis. But most Americans should be disturbed. Ideally, the U.S. should not be storing radioactive waste at nuclear plants scattered about the country. Spent fuel should be reprocessed, as it is in other countries, which would recycle more than 90 percent of it. And the remainder should be stored in a secure location, such as -- you guessed it -- Yucca Mountain.

But even with this court ruling, the U.S. is no closer today to a rational disposal policy. The obstacles to opening any depository, beginning with a state's effective veto and various congressional approvals, remain too high.

Although we have supported the Yucca Mountain site, it may be time for officials to rethink what to do about nuclear waste and adopt a less-than-ideal but workable fallback plan. Anyone serious about transitioning this nation off fossil fuels needs to recognize that nuclear energy will have a role -- and that it is critical to solve the problem of nuclear waste.


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