We often have difficulty finding common ground with the Trump administration, but when it comes to pursuing Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for nuclear waste, we are of one mind: Get it done.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry made clear in recent testimony before Congress that the administration plans to revive a process that was shelved by the Obama administration in 2010.
As The Hill reported, “‘We have a moral obligation … to remove this from as many of these sites as we can and put it in the safest repository,’ Perry said at a House Appropriations Committee subpanel hearing.”
It has been clear for years that is the best approach. In March 2006, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a report titled, “Yucca Mountain: The Most Studied Real Estate on the Planet.”
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The committee report clearly explains why, after years of study and expense, the Nevada site was considered the optimum location for a nuclear waste disposal: “In deep geologic disposal, the one overriding concern is the potential for radioactive contaminants to reach the accessible environment. Every known process for degrading and transporting such contaminants involves water. Yucca Mountain is one of the driest locations in the United States, receiving an average annual rainfall of only 7 inches. Ninety-five percent of the water falling on Yucca Mountain either evaporates or runs off, further limiting the amount available to seep into the repository. It also provides a minimum of 1,200 vertical feet of dry solid rock above the water table.”
The Hill reported, “The Trump administration is seeking $120 million in fiscal year 2018 for the Department of Energy to restart the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain site, which Congress designated in 1987 to be the nation’s sole repository for high-level nuclear waste. Nevada has repeatedly resisted the designation.”
That opposition was led for years by Sen. Harry Reid, but his retirement doesn’t mean Nevada’s obstruction has ended. Quite the contrary. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada grilled Perry about the administration’s plan to revive Yucca Mountain, the state’s Pahrump Valley Times reported.
The paper reported, “Cortez Masto questioned Perry’s ‘doubling down' on the Silver State when he suggested temporarily placing it at the Nevada National Security Site. The senator asked why the administration would not seek a consent-based approach to finding areas to take nuclear waste, and why it dismissed Obama administration decisions that the Yucca Mountain site was unworkable. ‘At least look at the science,’ Cortez Masto implored.”
We suggest the senator take her own advice. As the Senate committee report of 2006 makes clear, “the science” supports Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste disposal. The time and study that went into that conclusion involved not just government scientists, but outside experts from around the country and the globe.
And while we endorse the administration’s push for Yucca Mountain, we would add its “moral obligation” extends to ensuring the federal government keeps its end of the bargain in cleaning up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and not attempting to cut the budget for said cleanup, as has been suggested.
No one wants a nuclear waste repository in their state. But nuclear waste around the country, not just at Hanford, is a serious problem the federal government is obligated to address. And the answer already exists. Now our officials must act like real leaders and make it a reality.