GOP White House candidates' Yucca stance roils other Republican leaders

Reply Fri 21 Oct, 2011 12:39 pm
October 20, 2011
GOP White House candidates' Yucca stance roils other Republican leaders
By James Rosen | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers from South Carolina and Washington state, which hold tons of nuclear waste, are none too pleased that leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are backing President Barack Obama's decision to shutter a central dump designed to store their waste.

When Obama cut out funding for the long-planned Yucca Mountain waste repository near Las Vegas in 2009, Republicans accused him of playing politics in a bid to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his tough Nevada re-election race.

The Yucca site has been extremely unpopular in Nevada since Congress in 2002 authorized building a huge storage vault beneath the mountain as the nation's central nuclear waste dump.

Now GOP White House aspirants eager to win votes in Nevada's Jan. 14 Republican presidential caucus have come out against Yucca, just like Obama and Reid.

At the GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening, candidates competed to see who could appear more anti-Yucca.

"What right do 49 states have to punish one state and say, 'We're going to put our garbage in your state?'" said Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. "I think that's wrong."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney quickly followed suit.

"Congressman Paul is right on that," he said. "The idea that 49 states can tell Nevada, 'We want to give you our nuclear waste,' doesn't make a lot of sense. I think the people of Nevada ought to have the final say as to whether they want that."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was not to be outdone.

"You know, from time to time, Mitt and I don't agree, but on this one, he hit the nail on the head," he said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia was the only candidate who defended the Yucca dump, noting that scientists had studied waste-storage sites exhaustively and concluded that the Nevada site was the best option without major safety threats.

"We have to find some method of finding a very geologically stable place, and most geologists believe that, in fact, Yucca Mountain is that," Gingrich said.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, a first-term South Carolina Republican whose congressional district is home to the Savannah River Site nuclear complex — and its 4,000 metric tons of waste — warned the White House candidates that his state has the first-in-the-South GOP presidential primary.

"I suspect many South Carolina voters, including myself, will expect to hear the presidential candidates' solution to this problem during their next visit to the Palmetto State," Duncan said.

David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the Republican candidates at the Las Vegas debate were merely playing to a very different audience of Nevadans who oppose the Yucca site.

"Supporting it would hurt them," Damore said of the candidates. "It would be a negative ad waiting to happen. The path of least resistance is to say the right thing and get it over with. It's just not worth the political risk."

Tens of thousands of tons of highly toxic waste are in limbo at the country's 65 commercial nuclear power plants, and at former nuclear weapons complexes in South Carolina, Washington, Idaho, Tennessee and elsewhere.

The Yucca site has been fought by Nevada politicians of all political stripes, joined by business groups and environmentalists, who fear the impact on Las Vegas' $6 billion tourism industry. They also raise safety concerns over transporting highly toxic waste across the state's roads and railways.

Prominent Republicans in South Carolina and Washington state are dismayed that their party's presidential candidates have switched sides on the contentious issue.

"Failing to open Yucca Mountain creates real problems for states like South Carolina," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. "I believe it's a mistake for the Republican Party to buy into the political answer like President Obama did. We should stick to the science."

The Savannah River Site, a former atomic arms factory on South Carolina's border with Georgia, holds 4,000 metric tons of waste slated for eventual storage at Yucca. Additional waste is in temporary storage casks at seven commercial nuclear power plants in South Carolina.

Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, also criticized the GOP presidential candidates' newfound opposition to Yucca.

"Despite Yucca Mountain being the law and $14.5 billion in taxpayer dollars spent to develop it, the Obama administration has taken several steps, without the consent of Congress, to terminate all operations," Hastings said. "Unfortunately, some are following his lead and playing political football with this critical issue to Washington and other states with nuclear repositories."

(Rob Hotakainen of the Washington Bureau contributed.)

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/10/20/127876/gop-white-house-candidates-yucca.html#ixzz1bRWZukyu
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Reply Fri 27 Jan, 2012 11:44 am
Study: NM Could Lead in Nuclear Waste Solution
By Michael Coleman / Albuquerque Journal Washington Bureau
Fri, Jan 27, 2012

WASHINGTON – America has a serious nuclear waste problem that can be fixed only with dramatic changes to national policy, and New Mexico could help lead by example, according to a major federal study released Thursday.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future – a panel of policy experts commissioned by Energy Secretary Steven Chu that included former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. – issued its 180-page report Thursday after nearly two years of study. The report cites the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, which stores nuclear waste near Carlsbad, as a premier example of how to site a nuclear waste disposal.

But the report also said President Barack Obama’s decision to halt construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada early in his administration reflected a long-festering waste disposal policy that “has now all but completely broken down.”

“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,” the report says.

The report doesn’t make specific recommendations about where to build new nuclear waste facilities, but its praise of WIPP should encourage community leaders in southern New Mexico who are eager to embrace more nuclear waste and the high-paying jobs that come with its disposal, Domenici said.

“The report is replete with references to (WIPP) in Carlsbad,” Domenici told the Journal, adding that the salty earth in southeastern New Mexico could be suitable for some additional nuclear waste storage. “That part of New Mexico has many sites that probably fit the bill. It’s a highly probable site in the future.”

The report stresses that any siting decision should be made with heavy input from the communities affected – and preferably only with their strong encouragement.

“Based on a review of successful siting processes in the United States and abroad – including most notably the siting of a disposal facility for transuranic radioactive waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, and recent positive outcomes in Finland, France, Spain and Sweden – we believe this type of approach can provide the flexibility and sustain the public trust and confidence needed to see controversial facilities through to completion,” the report said.

WIPP currently stores waste such as plutonium-contaminated gloves and tools. Some, including Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., have suggested that southeastern New Mexico be considered for even more radioactive nuclear waste. Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico, including Carlsbad, could not be reached for comment on the report Thursday.

It is unlikely that new decisions on where to build nuclear waste dumps will be made anytime soon. In fact, it could take many years. The report suggests a major overhaul of national nuclear waste policy, including establishing a new legal process for selecting sites and the creation of an independent, government-chartered corporation focused solely on carrying out the task of securing the waste. That job currently falls to the Department of Energy.

Questions about where to put nuclear waste are becoming more urgent as America’s energy needs grow. About 20 percent of the nation’s power is currently supplied by nuclear reactors, and advocates would like to see that number increase as fossil fuels become scarcer. However, anti-nuclear activists remain a powerful political force.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Thursday he was still digesting the 180-page report and had no direct comment on its recommendations. He has scheduled a committee hearing on the report for Feb. 2.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque and a frequent critic of WIPP, said he supports many of the report’s recommendations, including setting up a new government corporation, establishing new siting standards and creating a “consent-based approach.”

“But I clearly don’t agree with Domenici or anybody else saying we should be going ahead with southeastern New Mexico for either centralized (waste) storage or disposal,” Hancock said. “I also don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Reply Fri 27 Jan, 2012 12:24 pm
How To Find A New Nuclear Waste Site? Woo A Town
by Christopher Joyce - NPR
All Things Considered
January 26, 2012

A panel of experts Thursday set forth a plan for getting rid of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Most of it is spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. It was supposed to go to a repository in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, but the government has abandoned that plan.

Yucca Mountain was largely done in by Nevadans, led by powerful Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who didn't want their state to be the country's nuclear waste dump. Some also questioned how geologically secure the underground storage site would be — especially environmental groups.

An underground train emerges from the entrance to the planned Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in 2006. The government has since abandoned the site as a location for the long-term storage of nuclear waste.

Now the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has a new plan to find another site. The Obama administration set up the commission after dropping Yucca Mountain.

Commission member Brent Scowcroft says the new plan should be "consent-based" — it must hinge on convincing the public that a new site will be safe.

"It's psychological," says Scowcroft, who spent two years with the commission working on a solution. "People don't understand nuclear waste. The problem itself is solvable." He notes that other countries, such as Sweden and Finland, have won local approval for permanent waste dumps, and found safe geological sites.

Scowcroft says this worked for the military's dump site in New Mexico's salt caverns, near the city of Carlsbad. "Salt is one of the most attractive mediums for permanent disposal," says Scowcroft. "And we found in visiting there that the people of the region generally are supportive of taking on additional burden."

The commission, however, wasn't asked to pick a site, just to set up a process to find one. For decades, the country's commercial waste has been sitting in "temporary" steel and concrete casks at nuclear power plants. The new plan would finally gather all that waste into interim holding sites while a permanent geological dump is built.

That would require moving lots of radioactive waste around the country. Commission member Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana, says that's already being done safely with military waste, but he says people will still be anxious. "When I was in the Congress and the prospect of transporting nuclear waste across southern Indiana came up, it just struck fear into people," Hamilton recalls.

Above-ground casks at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant store some of the utility's nuclear fuel. Because of a lack of a central repository, nuclear waste is piling up at individual reactor sites across the United States.
Nuclear Waste Piles Up As Repository Plan Falters

Thousands of tons of nuclear waste around the U.S. are waiting for a pickup that is decades away.

Panel: Nation Needs New Nuclear Waste Site, Pronto

While the dispute over a permanent storage site drags on, the waste is piling up.
In Sweden, A Tempered Approach To Nuclear Waste July 28, 2011

One other thing: The commission would fire the Department of Energy — they say that this time, an independent organization should be in charge of picking a permanent dump site. Says Hamilton: "They have a record of not dealing with the problem successfully. They have lost credibility to do it."

The nuclear industry definitely wants a permanent dumpsite.

"As we go out and talk in communities about building plants and re-licensing new plants, one of the principal issues they have is, 'What are you going to do with the used fuel?' " says Alex Flint, a vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. "And we feel an obligation to solve that."

Utilities and their customers have been paying a fee for years to the government that's meant to pay for a waste site. The federal government has reneged on its promise to use that money to take care of the waste. Flint says that's one reason they're happy to see the recommendation that DOE bow out.

"Our experience over several decades has simply been that the Department of Energy, because of changes in management, because of the disparate interests of its programs, is not well-suited to run this program," Flint says.

The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear has weighed in as well, arguing that the interim storage site is a bad idea because it may just become a permanent site.
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