We’ve ramped down discussing Yucca Mountain – it gets to seem whiny after awhile – but that doesn’t mean the discussion is over. The New York Times demonstrates the mountain’s continued relevance in an editorial today that only begins by excoriating the administration for letting politics trump science:
It is no secret that the president and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who hails from Nevada, want to close down the Yucca Mountain project, which excites intense opposition in the state. The administration has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2010 that would eliminate all money for further development of the site, and Mr. Reid has pronounced the project dead.
But eliminating or scaling back the licensing process, now in progress, is where the Times really has an issue:
These ramp-downs are occurring at the worst time. The regulatory commission is just beginning its licensing process, which is scheduled to take three to four years, and its relevant boards have ruled that at least eight intervenors can raise some 300 issues for technical challenges, an unusually high number. The cutbacks increase the odds that the agency will stumble in trying to justify a license — or that the hearings and evaluations won’t be completed within statutory deadlines.
Meanwhile, the administration, Congressional leaders and the nuclear industry are calling for a blue-ribbon panel to study alternative ways to dispose of nuclear waste. Surely it would be useful for any such panel to know whether the Yucca Mountain project was sound or flawed.
Yes, surely it would be useful.
Before approving this truncated budget, Congress needs to ensure that it contains enough money to sustain a genuine licensing effort. We have no idea whether Yucca Mountain would be a suitable burial ground for nuclear wastes. But after the government has labored for more than two decades and spent almost $10 billion to get the site ready for licensing hearings, it would be foolish not to complete the process with a good-faith evaluation. Are Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid afraid of what the science might tell them?
We can jump to an answer with a very strong likelihood of being right. Let’s see if the heft of the Times moves the needle on this topic in a sensible direction.