Nuking clean power

NEVADA - While tilting at windmills, the administration deals nuclear power a blow by cutting funds for a spent- fuel repository in Nevada. What's wrong with clean domestic energy that doesn't emit greenhouse gases?

During a campaign forum in Las Vegas last year, then-candidate Obama commented as follows on the site designed to safely store spent fuel from America's 104 operating commercial nuclear reactors: "I will end the notion of Yucca Mountain because it has not been based on the sort of sound science that can assure the people of Nevada that they're going to be safe."

Now-President Obama has kept his promise by virtually zeroing out Yucca's budget in 2010, leaving only enough for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to handle current licensing requests. House and Senate Democrats have already cut funding for the remainder of fiscal 2009 to a paltry $288 million, the lowest in recent years.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who represents Nevada and is a longtime Yucca opponent, is ecstatic. The budget cut is "a critical first step toward fulfilling his promise to end the Yucca Mountain project," Reid said in a statement. "President Obama recognizes that the proposed dump threatens the health and safety of Nevadans and millions of Americans.


Yucca Mountain is not a "dump," and it is not unsafe. Situated about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, it is quite possibly the safest, most geologically stable and most studied place on the planet.

The Department of Energy has long studied the rock at the planned repository, assessing how the repository would perform over tens of thousands of years. After 20 years and $9 billion, DOE has found Yucca Mountain to be quite stable and safe.

The DOE Web site says that after two decades "of carefully planned and reviewed scientific fieldwork, the Department of Energy has found that a repository at Yucca Mountain brings together the location, natural barriers and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public, including those Americans living in the immediate vicinity, now and long into the future."

Reid may not want it in his back yard, but he doesn't mind keeping America's nuclear waste where it is right now — in everybody else's back yard. Vast numbers of spent nuclear fuel rods are now stored at more than 130 above-ground facilities in 39 states. About 161 million Americans live within 75 miles of these existing sites.

We need the jobs nuclear power can provide, and we need the energy. The Energy Information Agency projects that by 2030 U.S. electricity demand will increase by 45%. Since nuclear power currently supplies 20%, the U.S. will need to have 35 additional nuclear power plants just to meet future demand.

Nuclear power is "green" energy, and the jobs it creates and supports are "green" jobs. Had America's nuclear reactors not been operating, about 48 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 19 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 8.7 trillion (with a "t") tons of carbon dioxide would have been emitted since 1995, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The opposition to nuclear power in general and Yucca Mountain in particular is more ideological than scientific. References to storing "waste" at a "dump" are totally false. As we have noted, the French long ago achieved energy independence by relying on nuclear energy for most of their power needs. But they also lead the world in processing this "waste" to create even more energy.

Jack Spencer, research fellow for nuclear energy policy at the Thomas A. Rowe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, says the "waste" to be stored at Yucca has enough energy to power every U.S. household for a dozen years. Since beginning operations, France's La Hague plant has safely processed more than 23,000 tons of used fuel — enough to power France for 14 years.

The U.S. pioneered the technology to recapture that energy decades ago, then banned its commercial use in 1977. An energy plan that does not involve continued and even increased use of nuclear power is no plan at all.

Can we store our "waste" safely and even reprocess it? Yes, oui can.


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