By Kathleen Davis, senior editor
News agencies from the Las Vegas Sun to the New York Times are reporting the demise of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project.
All the fuss centers around page 65 of President Obama’s budget, which proposes the Yucca Mountain elimination and allocates millions, instead, for the Department of Energy (DOE) to explore alternatives to the Nevada site. In fact, the 2009 United States Federal Budget, “A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise,” proposes to eliminate funding for the repository almost entirely.
The report states, “The Budget focuses on improved performance and accountability for the environmental legacy of the Nation’s nuclear weapons program by addressing health and safety risks across the country. The Yucca Mountain program will be scaled back to those costs necessary to answer inquiries from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while the Administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal.”
“For more than two decades, some have persistently tried to turn a piece of the magnificent Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas into a dumping ground for dangerous nuclear waste. I am proud to say that today, with the release of President Obama’s budget, that idea is dead,” stated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about the developments.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) added, “President Obama is making good on the promise he made to end Yucca Mountain, and this budget takes us closer than ever before to permanently burying this $100 billion dinosaur in the Nevada desert. Support for Yucca Mountain has collapsed.”
But, there is opposition to this position from Republican senators and representatives. In late April, when news of this funding cutoff filtered through political channels, seventeen GOP senators wrote to Energy Secretary Chu asking for a rationale of the decision. The letter was penned by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). Former presidential candidate John McCain was among the 16 senators who signed Inhofe’s letter. The DOE stated that Inhofe will receive an answer to his letter, but no response has yet been made public by the DOE.
And, just this morning, Chicago writer Dennis Bryne, penned an editorial on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site claiming that the demise of Yucca Mountain’s repository “would leave Illinois with the shaft” while the state holds onto nearly 7,000 tons of nuclear waste.
“Now, the question becomes whether Illinois’ Democratic senators—Dick Durbin and Roland Burris—will adequately represent the state’s and nation’s interests by fighting to keep the Yucca Mountain project alive,” Bryne wrote. “Ah, but you know they won’t.”
Yucca Mountain was selected in 1987 as a potential repository for nuclear waste created from the process of electricity production, including spent nuclear fuel rods and solidified high-level radioactive waste. It has been a contentious subject for over 20 years and the project itself has never been completed. (See picture for engineering schematic of the project.)
Nuclear energy is not off the Obama Administration’s radar, however. Last week, Secretary Chu announced the selection of 71 university research project awards as part of an investment in nuclear research. Under the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), these 71 projects will receive approximately $44 million over three years.
“The next generation of nuclear power plants—with the highest standards of safety, efficiency and environmental protection—will require the latest advancements in nuclear science and technology. These research and development university awards will ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in the nuclear field for years to come,” Chu stated.