Nuclear Energy Institute President Marvin Fertel said Wednesday that the Obama administration did not base its decision to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage site in Nevada on science, and therefore it is the federal government’s obligation to find an alternative.
Speaking to editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Fertel said he does not think Mr. Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu even looked at the scientific research before they deemed Yucca unfit to serve as the permanent storage depot for used nuclear fuel, contradicting President Obama’s promise to base his administration’s decisions on sound science.
“With all due respect to the president and Secretary Chu, I doubt they’ve looked at the science at all; they’ve made it a political decision,” he said. “I can respect a political decision; it’s not a scientific decision.”
Mr. Obama did not include funding in his budget proposal for Yucca Mountain, the nation’s first permanent nuclear waste storage facility outside Las Vegas. Yucca is projected to cost $90 billion; $11 billion has already been invested, but the administration said it will not go forward with Yucca and will propose an alternate storage site.
Mr. Fertel asserted that research has shown that Yucca is a good site for the purpose.
“Our evaluation of the science [of Yucca] is that it’s very good and it’s the most studied piece of land known to mankind,” Mr. Fertel said. “Every ‘-ologist’ from every national lab has studied it, and spent about $8 billion studying it.”
Mr. Fertel said the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to using Yucca for nuclear waste provides a powerful political reason for Mr. Obama to reject it.
“Anybody that understands where Senator Reid is on Yucca Mountain knew that if you were going to go into Nevada campaigning for the presidency you were not going to support Yucca Mountain if you were a Democrat,” Mr. Fertel said.
He added that he thinks Mr. Reid was influential in the administration’s view of Yucca. “I think Senator Reid doesn’t think it’s a good site and he’s entitled to his belief.”
Mr. Chu said last month that the administration will work with a blue-ribbon panel to “begin a thoughtful dialogue on a better solution for our nuclear waste storage needs because nuclear power has to play a very important role in this century for our energy needs.” He said that panel will deliver its findings this year.
In the meantime, Mr. Fertel proposed that the industry build two “interim storage” facilities, one in the Eastern part of the nation and the other in the West, to store nuclear waste until a permanent home is found. He estimates these sites will cost more than $100 million each.
Mr. Fertel said he thinks the administration has a favorable view of nuclear energy and, as a result, will eventually help it to grow. He added that he is hopeful the administration will talk about nuclear energy with the same fondness it has for renewable energy.
Applications to construct 26 nuclear reactors are under consideration, and Mr. Fertel expects four to eight of these reactors will be up and running by 2020. These new plants are expected to generate 15,000 to 20,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power at least 12 million homes.
“The administration must come to the realization of the role nuclear can play,” Mr. Fertel said. “It can’t address climate change effectively without the expansion of nuclear energy.”