After 21 years of studies, debate, protests and lawsuits—and $9 billion from the pockets of taxpayers—Yucca Mountain is dead.
President Obama's proposed federal budget axes funding for the Department of Energy's plan to store the waste from nuclear reactors 1,000 feet under a mountain northwest of Las Vegas. Bloomberg reports:
Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu "have been emphatic that nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period," said department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller. The federal budget plan Obama released today "clearly reflects that commitment," she said. "The new administration is starting the process of finding a better solution for management of our nuclear waste."
Yucca Mountain should have been dead on arrival. It was basically a scheme to shift responsibility for 100 million tons of radioactive waste from the power companies who generated it to the public. Leaving aside the ongoing debate over whether nuclear power has a role in fighting global warming, I've always felt that if the utilities were willing to take federal subsidies to build their nukes, and had no problem banking the profits from selling nuclear power to their customers, they should be responsible for disposing of the waste.
Most Americans, certainly most Nevadans, agreed. And few were comfortable with the idea of nuclear waste being shipped through 43 states on its way to Yucca Mountain, leaving the shipments vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attack.
So now we're back to square one, with reactors' wastes stored on site at 120 locations around the country. Nuke fans say it would be safer in one spot, but scientists say it's safe enough where it is, at least temporarily. However the question is eventually settled, the dilemma is a result of staggering short-sightedness: Why did we build 104 reactors in the first place without knowing what to do with the waste?