When President Barack Obama announced this year that his administration was withdrawing the federal application to build a high-level nuclear waste dump at NevadaÕs Yucca Mountain, the nuclear industry and its political supporters were apoplectic. They loudly complained, as they have before, about national security and the threat of terrorism to the nationÕs nuclear power plants.Since then, South Carolina has asked a court to overturn the administrationÕs decision, and several members of Congress are trying to resurrect the plan.
It is ironic, to put it mildly, that the court challenge comes as the Obama administration has been working with countries to protect and secure nuclear material lest it fall into terrorist hands. The Yucca Mountain plan would create a great security risk in America.
Of course, thatÕs not what the nuclear industry and its supporters say. They argue that it is better for the waste to be taken away from the power plants, where it currently sits, to a single location to reduce the potential terrorist threat against commercial nuclear reactors. But that is disingenuous. The nuclear power plants have always had waste on site and have had it stored safely for years without incident. Some waste is securely housed in immense containers wrapped in steel and concrete and would be safe for decades in that condition.
So why move it?
As Lisa Mascaro noted in TuesdayÕs Las Vegas Sun, South CarolinaÕs lawsuit noted that if Yucca Mountain is canceled, the state could become a potential site for nuclear waste. (Never mind that it has plenty of nuclear waste there already.)
So instead of leaving the waste safely where it is, South Carolina and other Yucca Mountain supporters want the deadly waste hauled cross-country, past millions of Americans who would be at risk of exposure to a radioactive accident.
Supporters of the plan downplay the risks and say transportation is safe, ignoring a major point — the Yucca Mountain plan would call for an unprecedented number of nuclear waste shipments.
The plan, which calls for storing 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, would require hauling more than 108,500 truckloads of nuclear waste across the nation over 38 years, an average of 2,870 a year. In contrast, there were on average fewer than 100 shipments a year in the United States over a 40-year period ending in 1997.
That many shipments would give terrorists plenty of time and opportunity to plot an attack. It would also increase the risks of a serious accident involving the release of radioactive material. Those are risks the Energy Department acknowledges.
And even if the federal government were to start shipping the waste to Nevada, there would still be more than 50,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste left at power plants after Yucca Mountain was filled. So much for getting it out of the other statesÕ backyards.
Shipping high-level nuclear waste across the country and burying it in Nevada would be dangerous, particularly considering that the plans for Yucca Mountain have failed to pass muster in any way. South Carolina and the other states should drop their challenges regarding ObamaÕs decision to kill the Yucca Mountain project and move on — for the good of the country.
Source: Las Vegas Sun