COLUMN: Re-open Yucca Mountain Without Further Delay

Mar 25, 2011
Op-Ed in the Aiken Standard
This week, as we approach the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the Three Mile Island incident, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is to hear oral arguments from Aiken County, the state of South Carolina, and others who are challenging the legality of the president's decision to abandon the permanent nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain.

This week's legal proceeding is timely, as the recent events in Japan have reignited the nuclear energy debate. In Congress, I have supported an "all of the above" energy solution. However, if our nation is to be serious about developing clean energy emissions and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, nuclear power must be a crucial piece of the strategy for energy independence.

Without a safe and secure location like Yucca Mountain, nuclear energy development in America cannot progress. In South Carolina, nuclear energy has safely provided more than 50 percent of our electricity for more than 30 years. It is a clean, safe, and cost-effective energy source. This challenge of properly disposing and storing nuclear waste touches every current and future citizen of America. It affects public safety, energy security, and global competitiveness.

I recognize spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste cannot be stored at existing sites indefinitely.

Additionally, the termination of Yucca Mountain could potentially bring liability for the federal government with some estimates exceeding $50 billion. The termination would halt 25 years of progress while wasting over $10 billion in investment from ratepayers. South Carolinians have invested $1.2 billion in Yucca Mountain. Taxpayers in Illinois, the President's home state, have provided $1 billion for Yucca Mountain. Furthermore, this issue will trigger a new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process known as a "major federal action" which would expend time, effort, and additional millions of dollars on litigation.

The NEPA Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Records of Decisions (ROD) for defense waste will be tremendously affected. These EIS and RODs will have to be redone or amended, subjecting each to further costs, delays, and litigation. In this time of fiscal austerity, taxpayers should not be on the hook for a short-sighted political calculation.

Testifying before a House Committee last week, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated, "Safety remains at the forefront of our effort to responsibly develop America's energy resources." He continued, "To meet our energy needs, the Administration believes we must rely on a diverse set of energy sources, including renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power."

I hope the Administration removes politics from science and reopens Yucca Mountain without further delay.

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