We simply need Yucca

Abandon partisanship that's keeping nuclear waste facility closed

Add Marvin Fertel’s name to the long list of people who support the Yucca Mountain project to store the nation’s nuclear waste.

Fertel, the president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, spoke at the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness’ Edward Teller Lecture and Banquet in Aiken, S.C., last week.

“The country has already spent about $10 billion on Yucca, and we believe it could still be an ideal setting for waste,” Fertel said.

More than $10 billion, actually. But he’s right in assessing Yucca’s ideal circumstances for waste storage.

And if the government doesn’t move in earnest to establish Yucca as a permanent site, we’ll keep seeing nuclear waste temporarily stored all over the country – including at the CSRA’s own Savannah River Site.

A bit of background: Congress approved Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository way back in 2002. But in 2011, the Obama administration abruptly cut funding for the project – in a wrong decision that nearly everyone from the Government Accountability Office on down has described as purely political, without any grounding in safety or science. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspended licensing activities for Yucca that same year.

After two years of wrangling in the courts, it finally took a writ of mandamus to spur some forward motion on the issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC in August to renew its review of the Department of Energy’s application to establish a repository at Yucca.

“While hard-working taxpayers have already invested $15 billion into the development of the Yucca Mountain Site in Nevada, this administration has continuously blocked efforts to move forward, simply because of a difference in political opinion,” U.S. Rep. Paul Broun Jr. said shortly after the ruling. “This instance of waste and delay is just another illustration of our out-of-control government, and it has got to stop.”

Broun and others from Georgia and South Carolina were among 81 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to urge NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane just last month to complete safety evaluation reports for Yucca, and use $11.1 million in its carryover waste funds to do it.

“It is our firm belief that completion of the (safety evaluation report) will settle the debate and provide scientific data confirming what we have known for many years – that Yucca Mountain is a safe location for a permanent repository,” the lawmakers said in their letter dated Sept. 27.

They can put that completed safety report on top of another mountain –the titanic summit of data that already proves the suitability of Yucca as a waste storage site. The title of one 2006 white paper conducted on Yucca even reflects how often it’s been examined: “Yucca Mountain: The Most Studied Real Estate on the Planet.”

That study supported all the other studies that gave the thumbs-up to Yucca. It also stressed the national security imperative of establishing a single, permanent repository for nuclear waste in the United States.

How safe would Yucca be? The Environmental Protection Agency once said waste stored at the proposed reinforced facility would give off public doses of radiation of just one millirem a year – for a million years. As a point of reference, average U.S. exposure to natural sources of radiation is estimated at 300 millirems a year.

As is stands now, however, nuclear waste is stored at more than 100 sites at nuclear facilities around the country. By one estimate, about 160 million Americans live within 75 miles of temporarily stored nuclear waste.

If our nation expects to be a responsible steward of nuclear power in a quest to become energy-independent, we simply need Yucca. Now.

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