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EDITORIAL: Sins of commission on Yucca Mountain

Political infighting results in lost billions

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid owes America $10 billion. That's the amount taxpayers have been forced to throw away in the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, which sits unused because of the Nevada Democrat's opposition. Because that's a refund check we're never going to see, lawmakers should act promptly on a set of recommendations released Thursday to limit the damage, ensuring further billions set aside for nuclear waste are not misspent.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future was appointed two years ago to study alternatives to the ill-fated Nevada site. Its new report concluded that authority over the nation's nuclear waste should be taken from the Energy Department and given to an "independent, government-chartered corporation." Presumably, doing so would end the political tug of war over the issue, making it one of the most egregious examples of government waste in U.S. history.

Among the commission's other recommendations are using a "consent-based approach" to finding future interim and permanent nuclear waste sites, developing "large-scale transport" to those sites, and giving the new oversight organization access to funds collected for nuclear waste management.

Utility customers have been paying one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour into a Nuclear Waste Trust Fund in exchange for the federal government's promise to prepare a long-term disposal facility for the waste. Uncle Sam has collected about $25 billion for that purpose, but thanks to Mr. Reid's "not in my backyard" stance, billions of dollars and 30 years of work have been lost on Yucca Mountain.

The Nevada senator had a little help from his friends. President Obama agreed to delete funding for the nuclear storage facility from his fiscal 2011 budget, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pull its application for an operating permit.

The 15-member commission, led by Washington veterans Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, urged the government to site future facilities only where communities grant consent. That is wishful thinking. Anti-nuclear activists will hop into their Birkenstocks and rally grass-roots opposition to proposed locations before the feds climb out of their government vehicles. If Nevadans opposed nuclear waste storage in a place as remote as Yucca Mountain, it's hard to imagine anywhere else in the United States where residents would welcome it.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus seconded many of the bipartisan panel's suggestions, but they believe the Nevada site remains viable. "The commission underscored the need for prompt action on a long-term storage disposal facility, and we believe Yucca Mountain remains the most shovel-ready, thoroughly studied option," they said in a statement.

The House subcommittee on environment and the economy is scheduled to take up the issue with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Scowcroft at a hearing on Wednesday. If the Nevada site is not reconsidered, perhaps Mr. Reid ought to start repaying the loss to taxpayers by charging tourists who come to see Yucca Mountain, "Harry's Tunnel to Nowhere."

The Washington Times

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