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EDITORIAL: Obama appeals to a higher power

The O Force keeps nuclear energy on a blue-ribbon choke chain

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2010

President Obama is looking for help in collaring American nuclear power. On Friday, the Department of Energy asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reconsider its refusal to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage project. In doing so, Mr. Obama continues his relentless quest to throttle this politically incorrect form of clean energy while pretending to sustain it.

In June, a three-judge NRC panel said the Obama administration cannot halt the licensing of the facility without approval from Congress. Now the administration hopes the full five-member commission will overturn the earlier ruling and end the project once and for all. Americans should hope that doesn't happen.

The Yucca Mountain facility - a series of tunnels bored deep into a desolate mountain range in southern Nevada at a cost of more than $9 billion - was intended to provide the United States with safe nuclear waste storage for 10,000 years. However, earlier this year, Mr. Obama seized upon safety concerns raised by nuclear energy's opponents and zeroed out funding for Yucca Mountain. Subsequently, Energy Secretary Steven Chu asked the NRC to rescind the department's license request, which would force a shutdown. Mr. Obama's offer in January of $36 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants in Georgia was merely a diversion: Without a long-term waste-disposal solution, nuclear power has no future.

No doubt about it, all things nuclear are anathema to Mr. Obama's leftist constituency. Its anti-military faction opposes nuclear power for its historic association with the defense establishment, while the environmental bloc prefers purported "sustainable" energy sources such as wind and solar, which are unaffordable for most Americans without heavy subsidies from Uncle Sam.

Tangled in their conflicting agendas to make America energy-independent while simultaneously killing most real options to achieve independence, Democrats in Congress are doing their part to stifle the nuclear industry. On Thursday, a House appropriations subcommittee rejected a Republican amendment that would have temporarily revived Yucca Mountain by providing $100 million for operations in 2011.

All the while, Mr. Chu is keeping a firm grip on the choker controlling the blue-ribbon commission he created to draw up recommendations for safe disposal of nuclear waste. There is only one conclusion the secretary declared upfront would be off-limits to the 15-member panel: keeping Yucca Mountain open. "Sentence first - verdict afterward," as the Queen of Hearts would say. Unfortunately, putting politics above all else is an increasingly routine modus operandi for scientists such as Mr. Chu.

With one NRC member recusing himself from the full-commission ruling because of his involvement in an earlier review of Yucca Mountain, the fate of the project rests in the hands of the four remaining commissioners. Their decision is due later this summer. If Mr. Obama receives authorization to close the facility, taxpayers can add nuclear power to a list of energy sources his administration has tagged for heavy restriction. Oil tops that list in the wake of the disastrous Gulf oil spill and is the primary target of Democrats' pending "cap-and-trade" carbon-tax legislation.

The left is handcuffing the U.S. economy. It makes no sense for the Obama administration to switch off America's sources of reliable and affordable energy, especially during a time of such awful economic hardship.

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