Yucca: It may never be over-over

The election of Barack Obama has been viewed in Nevada circles as the death knell for Yucca Mountain, the Southern Nevada site targeted to store the nation’s high-level nuclear waste. During the campaign, Obama voiced opposition to building Yucca Mountain, although he supports nuclear power. And the election of strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress — with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid at the helm of the upper chamber — has hampered the Department of Energy’s ability to secure adequate funding for the project.

So it’s dead, right? Not so fast.

This week, Obama’s Energy secretary, Steven Chu, told the New York Times that, in effect, the door for a nuclear waste repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas remains open. Obama administration officials moved quickly to calm startled Nevadans, reiterating the president’s opposition to Yucca.

Reid and other Nevada leaders expressed satisfaction with the administration’s “clarification,” but the reality is this: Pressure to build a national nuke waste dump remains high. The nuclear industry, whose future prospects were bolstered by the Bush administration, isn’t giving up on the plan, and perhaps feels that Obama’s trademark pragmatism might keep the project alive.

For Nevadans, know this: We seem to have Yucca Mountain on the ropes right now. Reid is starving the beast, while Obama has been vocally against it. It is taking heavy blows in the corner, getting beat up pretty good, but it hasn’t dropped to the canvas yet, and nobody is administering a 10-count.

Until a legitimate alternative is identified and pursued, we will be worrying over Yucca Mountain.