As a political quid pro quo for Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) support, President Obama pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in 2009. The Department of Energy then appointed the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future with the goal of recommending an alternative long term site for storing nuclear waste from power plants. The Commission released its report today. The report notes [PDF]:
Put simply, this nation's failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government's competence, and damaging to America's standing in the world— not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security. Continued stalemate is also costly—to utility ratepayers, to communities that have become unwilling hosts of long-term nuclear waste storage facilities, and to U.S. taxpayers who face mounting liabilities, already running into billions of dollars, as a result of the failure by both the executive and legislative branches to meet federal waste management commitments.
Well, yes. The Commission recommends establishing a "consent-based" process to find a new site for long term storage. But why? The U.S. already as a perfectly good site that can safely store nuclear waste for millennia: Yucca Mountain. A June report by the majority staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safety analysis of the Yucca Mountain facility and found:
The results of this review are striking. Despite numerous suggestions by political officials— including President Obama—that Yucca Mountain is unsafe for storing nuclear waste, the Committee could not identify a single document to support such a claim. To the contrary, the Committee found great agreement among the scientific and technical experts responsible for reviewing the suitability of Yucca Mountain—considered by many to be ?the most studied piece of land on Earth?—that nuclear waste can be safely stored at the site for tens of thousands of years in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements.
Most noteworthy in this regard is Volume III of the NRC's Safety Evaluation Report (SER)—a comprehensive technical evaluation of site safety critical to advancing licensing and construction of the Yucca facility. Obtained by the Committee only after repeated demands and over the objections of the NRC Chairman, SER Volume III demonstrates in excruciating detail the level of technical support among NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) experts in favor of the site's advancement: the Committee found that NRC agreed with over 98.5 percent of DOE's findings regarding the site's suitability to meet regulatory requirements. The remaining 1.5 percent did not impact the NRC staff's overall conclusions, which found that DOE's Yucca Mountain License Application complies with applicable NRC safety requirements, including those related to human health and groundwater protection, and the specific performance objectives called for in NRC regulations for disposal of high-level radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain (10 CFR 63.113-115).
Why, then, has the President shut down the Yucca Mountain Project? And why does NRC Chairman Jaczko refuse to permit NRC safety review of the site to continue, and refuse to allow his fellow Commissioners to formally vote on DOE's Motion to Withdraw the Yucca Mountain License Application? The answer is clearly not explained by or based on any scientific or technical evaluation.
While the specific instances of concern uncovered by the Committee and detailed in this report are convincing in and of themselves, they collectively reveal not just a pattern, but a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related processes in order to shut down Yucca Mountain.
So much for the president's promise in his Inaugural address to "restore science to its rightful place."