TCS Daily

Yucca to Get Green Light

By Duane D. Freese - January 9, 2002 12:00 AM

After two decades of study and years of political infighting, the federal government appears ready, as soon as Thursday, to give the green light to opening the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility in Nevada, sources tell Tech Central Station.

The decision by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will likely outrage environmental groups and key Nevada politicians who have vigorously fought the opening of the facility for years. It won't be the last word on the issue, by any means.

But don't let the howls of protest that emanate from green circles fool you. The decision to open Yucca Mountain in Nevada is a good one and comes not a moment too soon.

Indeed, as The New Republic demonstrated recently, the hold-up over Yucca Mountain is due to a political squabble that places parochial political interests above the nation's security. In November, opponents even released excerpts from a flawed draft report by the General Accounting Office in an attempt to further delay Energy Department action. Powerful Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has repeatedly blocked efforts to open a site facility in Yucca Mountain that was approved back in 1987. The facility was
completed in 1997.

While some Nevadans complain, with some truth, that Nevada alone was initially chosen as a site because powerful East Coast and Pacific Northwest politicians wanted to block any attempt to open storage facilities in their regions, the fact remains that spent nuclear fuel needs to be stored safely and effectively. The 9/11 terror attacks only serve to make clear that current storage methods pose unacceptable national security risks. Today, waste is sitting in casks at 103 commercial nuclear reactor sites along with various industrial and military sites. Sustained effort to protect them - especially at defunct facilities - are costly and inefficient. That increases the likelihood of natural accidents - or manmade ones - releasing nuclear material. Yucca Mountain, if it can get past Reid, will change all that, for the better.

The Department of Energy concluded last summer that the Nevada mountain is a safe location for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. In fact, given its remote location and arid conditions, plus the stability of the volcanic rock that surrounds the storage areas, it is almost uniquely suitable for nuclear waste storage. Another site would pose greater dangers.

Nuclear energy accounts for 20 percent of the nation's electricity production. A fully functioning Yucca Mountain storage facility will make it possible to fully integrate nuclear energy into the nation's energy supply. That is the chief worry of an environmental lobby that fails to account for the economic and strategic needs of this nation for a diverse energy supply. The horrible attacks of 9/11 placed in stark relief the pressing need for energy independence. Opening Yucca Mountain would be a small but important step on the road to realizing that goal.

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