Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yucca Mountain Low

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yucca Mountain Low

Article excerpt

A federal court this week spotlighted perhaps the ultimate NIMBY project in the United States.

When asked about permanently storing the country's more than 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants, states have answered "not in my backyard."

Over decades the federal government has spent more than $15 billion trying to find a suitable site and defending itself against related lawsuits that demand it do so. The US thought it might have a promising solution at Yucca Mountain, a remote site about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But after years of talk a formal recommendation on whether to proceed on the Yucca Mountain project has not been produced.

Sen. Harry Reid (D), the Senate majority leader, represents Nevada and has used his clout to make sure the Yucca Mountain site in his state will never be used.

This week a federal appeals court said the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was "flouting the law" by not making a decision on whether to license the storage facility. But even if the court prods the NRC to make a decision, it can't go too far: The Yucca Mountain project has only $11 million in unspent funds, and Congress is unlikely to agree on appropriating any more.

Why should Americans care?

Spent nuclear fuel currently must be stored at the power plants themselves. In the short term, this process is relatively safe. But it will cause a big problem if it still remains when these plants must be decommissioned later this century. Nuclear plant are licensed for 40 years of operation, though its possible they could be safely operated for several decades longer than that.

Meanwhile the nuclear plant owners, and their customers, have been paying billions of dollars into a trust fund set aside for the disposal of nuclear waste. Yet the federal government, which has assumed responsibility for the safe disposal of the waste, has yet to provide a facility.

An up-or-down decision on Yucca Mountain could help the process move forward. …

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