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EDITORIAL: No more razzle-dazzle

The courts stop the shakedown of the nuclear-power industry

- - Monday, November 25, 2013

President Obama's deal-making skills usually shortchange America. He puts the world at risk by coddling an Iran loving the bomb; he requires Americans to purchase health care they don't want from a website that doesn't work. Now the administration is compelling utility companies to pay for a nuclear-waste storage site they can't use, and never will.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week ordered the Energy Department to stop charging nuclear-power firms $750 million in annual fees to pay for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in the wilderness of Nevada. Though more than $12 billion has been spent building the site, the administration has decided not to use it, in deference to the senior senator from Las Vegas and his decree of "not in my backyard." The court said the administration had failed to present a convincing argument for further collection of the fees, and attempting to use "the old razzle-dazzle" obscures the fact that the government has no plan to spend the money.

Laurence H. Silberman, the senior judge, wrote that the government "cannot renounce Yucca Mountain and then reasonably use its costs as a proxy" for continued collection of fees for the Nuclear Waste Fund. After 30 years of fees and interest, the fund is brimming with nearly $30 billion, while the storage site, an enormous hole in a desert mountainside, remains empty. "The government was hoist on its own petard," Judge Silberman said.

The appeals court had ruled in August that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been in breach of federal law for its refusal to complete a final review of the Yucca Mountain site. Like a naughty child fearing a scolding, the commission restarted the review process the day before the court slapped down the Energy Department for its dodgy fee-collection scheme.

The Obama administration has spent five years playing a game of claiming to back nuclear energy in principle while blocking it in practice. As the delaying tactics continued to waste money, the Energy Department deployed a blue-ribbon panel to recommend alternative storage solutions. The result was a report in 2012 that recommended building a new storage dump in a community somewhere — anywhere — that agrees to be the next host. So far, no takers.

Liberals from the "Flower Power" era, overdosing on nostalgia, can't kick the habit of seeing nuclear energy as the malevolent enabler of the military-industrial complex. They join their fears with younger voters' infatuation with alternative-energy sources such as windmills, solar panels and algae. The reality is that nuclear power is the most environmentally friendly source of energy.

Nuclear plants don't have "greenhouse gas" emissions (which is the scary way of describing carbon dioxide, which all humans exhale). Such plants do not produce the visual pollution of sprawling wind and solar farms. They don't slice and dice errant sea gulls. In what should be the ultimate sign of acceptance for the frightened left, 75 percent of power in France comes from nuclear plants.

The only unanswered question about nuclear power is what to do with the waste. We could solve that by opening Yucca Mountain, whether Harry Reid likes it or not.