GAO accuses Obama WH of politics in Yucca Mountain closure

posted at 11:36 am on May 11, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Quick — which presidential candidate pledged to restore science to its “rightful place” in government policy?  If you’ve forgotten, well, so has Barack Obama and his administration, according to the GAO.  The watchdog agency reports that the White House rushed to shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal facility for political rather than scientific considerations, and that Obama’s manipulation will cost taxpayers billions of dollars and set back the nuclear industry by decades:

The Obama administration’s rushed efforts to shut down Yucca Mountain were strictly political and could set back the opening of a nuclear waste repository by more than 20 years, according to a new report by a federal watchdog.

The administration killed the repository program last year without citing technical or safety issues, and restarting the costly and time-consuming process of finding a permanent repository or an alternative solution could take decades and cost billions of additional dollars, the Government Accountability Office reported yesterday.

The Energy Department began pursuing a license for the Nevada site in 2008 but pulled support a year later when the Obama administration said it was not an attractive solution for storing nuclear waste in the United States. The administration then closed out funding for the site, eliminated jobs and contractor activities and disposed of Las Vegas properties associated with the project.

“Several DOE officials told us that they had never seen such a large program with so much pressure to close down so quickly,” the report said in reference to the repository located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

What technical or scientific rationales did the White House use in this effort?  Well … none, according to the GAO.  The administration not only didn’t bother to explain why the site had to be closed so quickly, they never checked on the safety issues involved in the hasty shutdown of the facility.  Instead, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu just declared that Yucca Mountain was not a “workable option” and demanded its closure.

There are even bigger problems that the GAO report uncovered, not all having to do with the Obama administration.  Thanks to the hasty closure, another disposal site must be found.  However, the GAO estimates that even if a decision on a new site was made today, the permit process for its use would keep it off line until … 2045.  It will take 34 years to get full approval on the next waste-disposal site, and that’s if the site avoids “cost delays” and “garners public acceptance.”

This project was not popular in Nevada, and Harry Reid is perhaps its biggest opponent.  It looks as though the Obama administration rushed to protect Harry Reid for his re-election campaign last year, at the risk of the nuclear-power industry and taxpayers.  We need to find out exactly how this decision got made, and then we need to fix the process for dealing rationally with nuclear waste.  We can’t wait 34 years to get an answer, and it’s absolutely absurd that we should have to do so.


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