So long, Harry

With Reid leaving, nuclear waste solution has brighter future

The person most responsible for keeping 72,000 tons of highly radioactive waste spread across the United States instead of deep below the Nevada desert is retiring from Congress.

 

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has announced he will not seek re-election.

We’d send our warmest regards if not for the fact that Reid, among other dubious things, spent the majority of his career prolonging the nation’s nuclear waste dilemma by bitterly fighting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in his home state. The career politician’s wish came true in 2009 when, as then-Senate majority leader, he cut a deal with the Obama administration to nix the project’s federal funding.

Today Reid brags on his Senate website: “I am proud that after more than two decades of fighting the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, the project has finally been terminated.”

So he says. He won’t be around much longer. Neither will his enabler in the White House.

With Reid out of the picture, America may finally get the solution it deserves on the long-term storage of nuclear waste, which continues to pile up at America’s nuclear power plants.

Those facilities, including Plant Vogtle south of Augusta, are filled to the brim with spent nuclear fuel because their temporary storage facilities were meant to last only long enough for the federal government to complete a permanent, off-site repository. Like most plants, Vogtle has run out of space in its spent fuel pools and must now store its oldest high-level waste in above-ground casks.

Though such methods are safe and secure, they are not permanent. Americans in the nearly three-dozen states where spent fuel is stored – including Georgia (2,700 tons) and South Carolina (4,900 tons) – surely would agree the better long-term solution is moving the high-level waste 1,000 feet beneath a barren desert inside Nevada’s nuclear proving grounds.

The federal government promised a central storage facility at Yucca Mountain three decades ago. So far, it’s spent $10 billion in taxpayer dollars and collected more than $30 billion from the nation’s electric utility customers to fund its construction. And it was all killed in an unholy Reid-Obama alliance.

Without the deep-geologic repository in Nevada, the nation’s high-level nuclear waste – including at Savannah River Site – will remain in limbo.

Now is the time to reboot. Funding must be restored so Yucca Mountain can be completed and licensed as promised. And Nevadans need to reassess whether they want their congressional leaders proceeding in perpetuity with the nuclear-waste lever firmly stuck in the “opposed” position.

They seem to be already.

“What if the answer were ‘maybe’?” freshman U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., wrote in a Las Vegas Review-Journal op-ed last month. “What if a permanent investment were made in Nevada schools – the kind of investment that could take us from the bottom 10 percent to the top 10 percent? What if Nevada were to receive a larger share of water rights from the Colorado River, or obtain greater leverage in our quest for better transportation and infrastructure funding across the state?”

After years of Reid’s “no,” we’re encouraged by Hardy’s “maybe,” even if it does reek of Beltway quid-pro-quo.

What we don’t need, as Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has intimated, is a new round of studies to develop facilities in multiple states.

What’s the point? The best solution already exists 100 miles north of Las Vegas in an isolated and unproductive desert. Yucca Mountain, already the most studied piece of real estate in America, was declared suitable for nuclear waste storage by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission just last fall.

And now, Harry Reid says he’s retiring.

We hope he’s still around when the first Yucca Mountain shipments arrive.

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