Yucca Mountain is not dead. As much as I would like to see this project buried in its own waste of ineptitude, incompetence and insanity, I disagree with some anti-Yucca Mountain people who’ve publicly asserted in recent weeks that “Yucca Mountain is dead.” Far from it. Yucca Mountain is alive and active.
(Or should that be radioactive?)
Yucca Mountain, the Department of Energy’s proposed site for the geologic disposal of 77,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, located approximately 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has a decades-long history of project delays — it is nearly two decades behind schedule — mismanagement and questionable science.
As the scientific and political nails keep piling up, ready to slam shut Yucca Mountain in its own permanent casket, it’s vital to look at the project’s status from a legal perspective.
To wit: The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (also known as the “Screw Nevada Bill”), sets forth a specific and legally binding process for the development of the nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. There are only three ways to stop the Yucca Mountain project:
First, an act of Congress would terminate Yucca Mountain. Congress would have to vote either to repeal or amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Pro-Yucca forces, including lobbyists and the formidable Nuclear Energy Institute, would most certainly intensify their already extensive pro-Yucca efforts.
Second, a presidential order could put a halt to Yucca Mountain. Existing and previous Republican administrations have made it clear how they stand on Yucca Mountain…the faster the project is approved, the better. And while several ’08 Democratic presidential candidates have called for alternatives to Yucca Mountain, past Democratic administrations have lacked the political will and wherewithal to recognize the only thing apparently safe to bury at Yucca Mountain is wasted federal funds and public safety.
Third, and perhaps of more immediate concern to Nevada’s future, is the Department of Energy’s June 2008 self-imposed deadline to submit its long-overdue license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Should the NRC reject the DOE’s license application, Yucca Mountain would be dead.
As much as I would love to stand along with my fellow Las Vegans at Yucca Mountain’s funeral as the mournful skirls of bagpipe music waft across our city, the battle must wage on for a while longer.
What then must we do? One, we must put an end to the phrase, “Yucca Mountain is dead.” Much like a wounded animal that wages a ferocious fight before finally gasping its last breath, the forces behind Yucca Mountain are flailing their political arms as they reach for the magical June 2008 license application deadline … as though meeting this date would be indicative of project success.
Two, Nevada’s public officials must intensify, not relax, their public awareness activities with respect to Yucca Mountain. With thousands of new residents coming to Las Vegas every month, it’s important to make sure they are informed about the many issues affecting them now and in the future.
Three, as part of Nevada’s reaffirmed position against Yucca Mountain, it’s imperative we support our state’s delegation in its collective efforts to: (a) block potential legislation that would expedite the license application process and construction approval; (b) block efforts to establish interim storage at Yucca Mountain; and (c) block all efforts to increase project funding.
Public safety has no half-life. We have a moral obligation to protect future generations from a radioactive Pandora’s Box. On-site storage of spent nuclear fuel is the only sensible solution for now, at least until other safe alternatives emerge for the safe, long-term disposal of nuclear waste.
Oscar Goodman was recently re-elected to his third term as mayor of Las Vegas.