Representative Joe Wilson

Representing the 2nd District of South Carolina

Nuclear waste must find safe, permanent home in Nevada

Nov 5, 2011

As I watched the Republican presidential candidate debate Oct. 18, I was startled to hear candidates jump at the opportunity to agree with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on shutting down the nuclear waste
repository at Yucca Mountain.

While many of these candidates are running on platforms aimed to reduce the deficit and increase jobs, the termination of Yucca Mountain will do just the opposite.

The president’s decision to withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain wastes more than $10 billion already spent, of which $1.2 billion came from South Carolinian ratepayers. Further delay also subjects U.S. taxpayers to a financial liability currently estimated at $15 billion. With these further delays, the total liability is projected to be well over $50 billion.

Local communities in Nevada have voiced their support for Yucca Mountain. It would provide much-needed jobs. It is estimated that up to 5,000 jobs would be associated with the project, and more than 2,000 jobs created during the 150-year operating life of the project.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was the closest to getting the issue right. However, even he stated Nevada should be compensated for playing host to the repository, as though jobs and investment in the state of Nevada are not enough.

It is imperative for the United States to have a permanent nuclear storage and disposal facility. Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and defense facilities cannot be stored at existing sites indefinitely. The decision to terminate Yucca Mountain condemns storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level wastes at approximately 121 sites in 39 states, including multiple locations in South Carolina.

High-level nuclear waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons complex currently resides at 16 sites in 13 states, including the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and totals 7,000 metric tons. The waste will remain on the surface adjacent to rivers, lakes and population centers rather than in a deep geological repository at a remote, arid, federally-controlled site. This is an extremely important matter not only for the communities I represent and the state of South Carolina, but for the nation.

If the Republican candidates are to be taken seriously about energy issues and reducing our dependency on foreign oil from hostile nations, then nuclear power must be a piece of the strategy. Without a safe and secure location such as Yucca Mountain, nuclear energy development in America cannot progress. Nuclear energy has provided more than half of our electricity in South Carolina for more than 30 years. It is a clean, safe and cost-effective energy source. But to keep it safe, we must have a permanent site to dispose of the waste.

When the president ran for office in 2008, he promised to take politics out of science. It is evident his decision to withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain was based on politics, not science. It is unfortunate the Republican candidates are playing politics, too. I urge them to reverse course on this critical national issue.

I encourage my fellow voters in South Carolina to raise this issue with the Republican candidates and to hold them accountable for a permanent nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain if elected.