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Yucca: Just build it

The Obama administration scuttled the Yucca Mountain project for nuclear waste disposal in 2010, but it didn’t stop the Department of Energy from continuing to collect annually $750 million in fees generated by ratepayers for that project. Who’s surprised?

A federal appeals court, however, has ordered the tap turned off. In doing so, the court has put the administration on the spot for its failure to carry out its obligations to provide for high-level nuclear waste storage.

Indeed, the court said that the fee could be reinstated only after the government decides to take up a bona fide waste disposal project.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was similarly instructed in a previous court ruling to revive its work on a repository for high-level nuclear waste. In that instance, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of South Carolina and Aiken County.

Without a repository, tons of high-level defense waste will remain indefinitely at Savannah River Site, as well as on site at 104 commercial reactors.

The Yucca project has been 30 years in the making, and the federal government has spent billions of dollars to provide for storage in the interior of the remote mountain site in Nevada. Because there is yet no alternative to Yucca, the federal government has to stop collecting money for its development, the Court of Appeals said in last week’s ruling.

The court was particularly critical of DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, saying that “the key defect in the government’s position is that the Secretary still declines to carry out his basic statutory obligation.”

President Obama and his administration have supported the closure of Yucca Mountain. So has Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., one of the president’s key legislative allies. Former NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, who served as point man for the Yucca shutdown, was a former staffer for Sen. Reid.

Since 1982, the DOE has collected $30 billion for the disposal site, and while some of the money already has been spent on the development of the Yucca project much of it remains in trust.

Which leads to the question previously raised by Nikki Haley during her 2010 campaign for governor: When does the federal government plan to issue a refund?

“If the feds want to renege on the promise to keep Yucca open, they must refund the $1.2 billion our state has spent on the facility. We want our money back,” she said.

Certainly, if the government isn’t going to fulfill its responsibility, a rebate is warranted.

A better solution, though, would be for federal bureaucrats to do their jobs and stop trying to circumvent the will of Congress and of previous administrations.

A secure, remote repository for high-level nuclear waste is in the nation’s best interest, for public health and for national security.

Stop with the delays, and finish the project.

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