We couldn't help but sympathize with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu after last week's visit from his Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.
Chu is a top-flight scientist, a Nobel laureate and former national lab director. His training and experience give him instant credibility in any technical arena.
That must make it tough to play the front man for the Obama administration's policy on nuclear wastes, which puts politics ahead of reason.
It especially can't be comfortable for anyone with Chu's credentials to assign a research project, then dictate the findings at the outset.
But to a large extent, that's exactly what the Obama administration did when it ordered the panel not to consider Yucca Mountain's potential as a nuclear waste repository.
Frankly, the restriction is the sort of absurdity that only can make sense inside the political arena.
The administration's opposition to Yucca Mountain might help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's re-election campaign, but it can't be justified on technical grounds.
The Nevada site is the most extensively studied candidate for a deep geological nuclear waste repository on the planet.
It defies logic to consider any other geological solution without measuring it against what already has been learned from decades of studies at Yucca Mountain.
The administration's decision to unilaterally pull it from consideration eventually may prove to be illegal. A consolidated lawsuit on behalf of Washington, South Carolina and others is forcing the issue.
But legal considerations aside, keeping blinders on the Blue Ribbon Commission when it comes to Yucca Mountain is bad policy.
As state Attorney General Rob McKenna points out in today's In Focus column, the federal government doesn't offer a scientific explanation for its decision to abandon the Nevada site after $14 billion in public money has been spent on engineering and research.
"DOE noted, 'the Secretary's judgment ... is not that Yucca Mountain is unsafe or that there are flaws ... but rather that it is not a workable option,' " McKenna writes.
We're not naive enough to imagine that the final decision on permanent disposal of spent commercial reactor fuel and high-level defense wastes can be divorced from politics.
But the rational approach would be to minimize the effect of politics and maximize the importance of scientific analyses.
Chu has assembled a high-powered and talented panel to consider the nation's options for this intractable problem.
One of the group's co-chairmen is former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. The other is Brent Scowcroft, former National Security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
The rest of the panel's 15 members include some of the nation's best minds in public policy, national security, politics, energy and environmental and nuclear science.
They ought to disregard the directive to ignore Yucca Mountain and do what makes sense.
If they weren't hobbled by a predetermined limit on the scope of their inquiry, there would be plenty of reason to feel encouraged by these experts.
Their decision to visit Hanford and hold public hearings in the Tri-Cities was astute. Nowhere else could provide a better overview of the complexity of the problem.
Energy Northwest's used reactor fuel, DOE's leak-prone tank farms for high-level liquids, disintegrating spent fuel rods retrieved from the old K Basins, the massive vitrification plant being built in the desert -- all are pieces to the puzzle.
The panel's questions to Hanford officials were insightful and focused on the crux of their problem -- determining a safe and viable way to deal with the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.
These are smart people, capable of completing their mandate to help chart America's nuclear future.
They ought to be given free rein to draw their own conclusions about the best path forward. It's the only way to know we're getting their best advice.