Here’s what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the recent U.S. Appeals Court ruling that ordered the nuclear waste project at Yucca Mountain back on track:
“Without any disrespect to the court, it means nothing. The fact is, they have no money. The place is locked up, it’s padlocked. Nothing is happening with Yucca Mountain.
“Yucca Mountain is an afterthought,” he added, in comments to Politico.
Well, without any disrespect to Sen. Reid, who made him the final word on nuclear waste policy for the nation? The easy answer would be President Barack Obama, who has also worked to close the disposal site, even though it has been under development for decades at a cost of $15 billion.
But Congress should have something more to say about the revival of Yucca Mountain. Congress mandated it, funded it and has predicated its decision-making on waste issues on its eventual completion.
It defies reason to think that congressmen representing states all across the nation where nuclear waste is stored will agree to the administration’s blithe assertion that continuing on-site storage is a long-term option.
Certainly, South Carolina, Aiken County and the state of Washington won’t relent on their joint legal efforts to force the federal government to do what it has agreed to do: provide a safe, central repository for commercial and defense waste.
Some 75,000 tons of spent commercial fuel are being stored on site at the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors. And there are large quantities of Cold War-era nuclear waste stored at defense sites such as SRS and Hanford in Washington state.
In the wake of the appeals court ruling, Congress should lend a hand in support of the Yucca restart. It’s a better idea than a pending legislative proposal to create interim storage sites while new permanent repositories are developed.
That idea is an outgrowth of the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Among the commission’s disposal “solutions” is a long-term interim repository for nuclear waste. Savannah River Site has been prominently mentioned for such a role, despite the state’s opposition.
But SRS is a production facility, not a waste dump. The federal government ought to concentrate on cleaning up SRS as it proceeds with production plans for commercial reactor fuel, to be generated from weapons grade plutonium.
As for Sen. Reid’s assertion that “they have no money” to restart Yucca, the appeals court noted that there is $11.1 million in the bank for the project.
Clearly, that’s not enough even to bring the Yucca project back to the point in 2010 before then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former Reid staffer, had it unilaterally dismantled.
But it’s a start.
Congress should reaffirm its long-standing support for Yucca with additional resources, the opposition of Sen. Reid and his minions notwithstanding.