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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Keep Yucca Mountain project alive; stop screwing with Illinois

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

While President Barack Obama's newly proposed budget would finally allow Nevada to rid itself of a nuclear waste dump planned to be buried in tunnels deep under Yucca Mountain, it would leave Illinois with the shaft.

Obama's decision to zero out the Nevada nuclear waste repository is a betrayal of his Illinois constituents, forcing nuclear power plants here to continue to "temporarily" store more than 7,000 tons of dangerous, radioactive waste -- more than any other state -- in cooling ponds near rivers and Lake Michigan. It would mean that the $10 billion that Commonwealth Edison and other utility customers already have sunk into the repository have disappeared down a dark hole.

His decision also defies decades of scientific and engineering studies demonstrating that the Nevada site is the safest and best location to store the spent fuel. Now Illinois faces the prospect that the "temporary" storage of the dangerous materials here could turn into something a lot more permanent. There's no other way to put it: Obama caved in to Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who for years has been trying to kill the project in his home state for purely political reasons. Reid, representing the worst of "not in my backyard" irrationality, last week crowed, "It's over with; Yucca Mountain is gone."

Now, the question becomes whether Illinois' Democratic senators -- Dick Durbin and Roland Burris -- will adequately represent the state's and nation's interests by fighting to keep the Yucca Mountain project alive. Ah, but you know they won't. There is a lesson in this for the gullible who thought that having a president and the Senate's second most powerful leader -- Durbin, the majority whip -- would shower their home state with copious benefits. Durbin, who loves to crow about the earmarks he brings back to Illinois, has badly failed the state in this most crucial test of his worth. The blindly partisan will argue that Obama has demonstrated courage by bucking the pressures from the provincials back home (i.e. Chicago), who simply are trying to avoid their responsibility by unloading on another state the waste they generated. After all, we'll be told, the Chicago area is among the most heavily dependent regions on nuclear power.

That would be a good argument if all the years of scientific study had concluded that the best alternative is to dispose of radioactive waste where it's generated. The evidence, however, suggests no such thing. The billions of dollars and years of study into the alternatives -- which included rocketing the waste into the sun or dumping it into the bottom of the ocean -- settled on Yucca Mountain in the desolate and lightly populated state of Nevada (about 18 people per square mile) as the most geologically and geographically secure prospect. Most of the nation's 131 temporary storage sites in 39 states are near large population centers; 161 million Americans live within 75 miles of a temporary site. Because nuclear power plants use large quantities of water, temporary storage often is near rivers, lakes and seacoasts, posing a threat of groundwater contamination. They also are more exposed to terrorist attacks. No site other than Yucca presented such promising natural and man-made barriers for isolating the waste for "tens of thousands of years."

The president, of course, was not simply responding to the parochial demands of Reid; Obama also is genuflecting to self-proclaimed protectors of the environment who wish to scare Americans into believing that their energy problems can be solved by windmills and such. In fact, nuclear power is an energy source of huge potential, one that generates no climate-changing carbon dioxide. Opposition to a permanent repository is an arrow in their quiver, allowing them to argue disingenuously that nuclear power is dangerous because there is no place to put the waste.

After taxpayers and electric utility customers have paid billions to study the matter, the president's $3.6 trillion 2010 fiscal year budget proposes to set aside $197 million for something called the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to study "alternatives" to Yucca Mountain, including "regional" solutions. Billions wasted and almost $200 million conjured up from somewhere to reinvent the wheel. Pathetically, that draws barely a whimper from our Illinois elected officials.

This article has stirred some strong opinion on the Chicago Tribune website. If you want to read, or participate in the debate, go to the comment section at the bottom of the post (here).

Here are some informative links:
Reid’s victory on Yucca Mountain is nation’s loss

Is Yucca Mountain dead?

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