One has to wonder if Gerald Ford, when he issued an executive decree in 1976 suspending nuclear fuel reprocessing, and Jimmy Carter, when in 1977 he made the prohibition permanent, understood what a big problem they were creating.
Namely, if not to be reused, what should be done with spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants? By 1982, Congress had passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requiring that a site be designated for the storage of nuclear waste, and by 1987, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated that location by Congress.
Fast forward more than 20 years, $7.7 billion appropriated by Congress and Yucca Mountain still lays dormant — no waste has been stored there yet — and in 2009, at the request of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the Obama administration abandoned the project altogether by refusing to fund it.
The exhaustive government surveys done in the 1980s chose Yucca Mountain because of its remote location away from population centers. But that did not prevent Reid from politicizing the issue to local constituents and leading the charge to shut the facility down.
Of course, the key problem still remains, which is, what to do with the nuclear fuel?
The failure of the federal government to utilize Yucca Mountain has meant, as pointed out by the Washington Post editorial board, that instead “storage is spread over 121 above-ground sites located within 75 miles of more than 161 million people in 39 states.”
So, rather than either rescinding the 1970s executive orders banning nuclear reprocessing, or burying the waste under a mountain in the middle of the desert where nobody lives like was originally planned, the eggheads in Washington, D.C. led by the Obama administration and Harry Reid have instead opted to endanger half the entire U.S. population by allowing the waste to continue to be dispersed across the country.
In 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals even found the Obama Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be in violation of the federal law that clearly designates Yucca Mountain to be the site for nuclear disposal.
So, what can be done?
House Republicans earlier this year led by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson via the Energy and Water appropriations bill had a solution, which was to simply fund the Yucca Mountain again to the tune of $150 million. Unfortunately, it was stripped out of the bill.
But, there is still a chance for the funding to be reinstated in the upcoming omnibus spending bill coming up in December.
One way to proceed might be to include the Yucca funding — along with, say, defunding other Obama anti-electricity initiatives like rules against coal-burning power plants.
And, then, perhaps make Obama and Reid choose between funding for Yucca Mountain, or, continuing to fund the EPA’s regulatory assault on electricity producers.
Because, either way, we need power. And even if Congress started nuclear reprocessing by lifting the Ford-Carter executive bans on the practice tomorrow, getting more energy out of the fuel, we would still need a place to store the remaining spent fuel at the end of its cycle.
If threatening Obama’s war on coal is the way to get Yucca Mountain opened again, so be it. Doing nothing is not an option. The nuclear waste has to be put somewhere.
This is a guest post by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.