Closing Yucca Mountain a waste

July 3, 2010 1:59PM

Allyn Milojevich, research associate at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, takes the Obama administration to task over its plan to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada. This article originally appeared in Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel. by Allyn Milojevich In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, mandating permanent repositories for nuclear waste. Currently, Yucca Mountain in Nevada stands as the sole repository for the country’s nuclear waste. Overall, nearly $14 billion has been spent on this 135,000 metric ton storage facility. Yet in 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would cut all funding for the Yucca Mountain project. Not only is this a direct violation of federal law, but if this action holds, it will render the $14 billion investment a complete waste of money. There are 1,460 metric tons of nuclear waste in Tennessee. Because the Obama administration halted the Yucca Mountain project, this waste will remain in the state indefinitely, stored in large pools of water at nuclear reactors throughout the state. Tennesseans have already contributed $484.5 million to the Yucca Mountain project through taxes on their energy consumption, and if Yucca Mountain is terminated, taxpayers will have lost their investment and still have nowhere to store their nuclear waste. The administration has expressed its interest in expanding nuclear power in the United States – a necessary move if it wants to meet its carbon reduction standards – but it is now sending a clear signal to developers that they will not have a place to store their waste. Opponents of nuclear power often suggest recycling the waste by removing impurities to be used in new fuel rods, as practiced in France. While this is a noble goal, recycling waste is not 100 percent efficient. Remaining waste would still need to be stored safely underground. A central location would minimize the risk of inappropriate storage or worse. Currently, eight members of Italy’s state energy research agency stand accused of paying off the ‘Ndrangheta mafia for shipping radioactive waste from Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany to Somalia, bribing the local politicians and burying the waste or sinking it offshore. Having just one approved location in the U.S. would minimize the chance of similar corruption. Further, much of the $14 billion Yucca Mountain investment has been spent working through the regulatory process, which, in addition to being expensive, has taken 20 years to develop. If the administration wanted waste recycling to be part of our nuclear waste future, it should work to incorporate a recycling plant at the Yucca Mountain site. This way, the previously spent time and money will not have been in vain. In February 2010, South Carolina sought a restraining order against the federal government to block the attempt to terminate Yucca Mountain. Similarly, Washington state filed suit claiming the Obama administration’s action violates several U.S. laws. Should Tennessee sue the federal government as well? Maybe. At the very least, the permanent termination of a project in which Tennesseans have invested $484.5 million should anger taxpayers. The 1,460 tons of nuclear waste in their backyard should have Tennesseans advocating for a safe solution in the near future, rather than the political ploy coming out of the White House. Allowing waste to be scattered throughout the country instead of in a central location is not only politically naive, it is outright dangerous to our state’s residents. Allyn K. Milojevich is a research associate at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.