The power demands of modern life require the infusion of fuel and the disposal of resulting waste. If the nation is to move beyond fossil fuels, common sense dictates that a future run on clean energy must include a robust role for emissions-free nuclear power. While building a dependable supply chain for nuclear fuel, the Trump administration must take steps to break the long-standing deadlock over its hazardous end product.
President Trump is mulling several proposals for ensuring the nation’s uranium stockpiles remain sufficient for both military and commercials needs, as described in a recent op-ed by Heritage Foundation policy experts Steven Moore and Katie Tubb in this publication. The creation of a “Federal Uranium Security Stockpile,” admittedly, would saddle taxpayers with a bill exceeding $1 billion over a decade for purchasing and storing a reserve. Few shortages would prove more costly during a time of armed conflict, though, than the failure to fuel the nation’s nuclear-powered arsenal or keep the lights on in American homes.
Ensuring the nuclear fuel supply is half the battle. The other half is solving the nuclear waste storage dilemma. The president, who has won trade concessions from the ruthless Chinese and even prevailed upon implacable Democrats to sign a long-delayed trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, should put his deal-making skills to work in ending a generation of opposition to a permanent U.S. repository for nuclear waste.
In a prime example of political farce, a nuclear storage facility burrowed under a desolate mountain range in Nevada at a cost of more than $15 billion sits silent and empty. A warren of underground tunnels and storage vaults, the Yucca Mountain project is nearly ready for use, but strident political opposition led by Nevada’s congressional delegation and backed by anti-nuke activists has halted the issuance of government permits required for its opening.
As a result, Washington has shelled out more than $7 billion in taxpayer-funded fines to public utilities that have funded the project and have been denied its use for disposal of spent nuclear material. That is an expensive waste.
Still, in light of the view that all politics is local, obstruction is understandable: Given a choice, who wouldn’t assail a nuclear dump in his backyard that would require radiation monitoring for 10,000 years?
A land of hundreds of millions of citizens faces issues that transcend the local level, though, and some controversial decisions must serve the national interest. Nuclear waste disposal is such an issue.
Toddlers may delight in dirt and grime, but most Americans prefer their environs clean. The “green” revolution campaigning for a world energized by sunlight and breezes isn’t ready for prime time, only supplying about 11 percent of the energy consumed by Americans in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In contrast, nuclear reactors supply about 20 percent and, like renewable sources and unlike fossil fuels, don’t emit greenhouse gases. Clearly, there is no rational way to advance the nation’s clean energy goals without a nuclear component.
A blue-ribbon commission appointed to review nuclear fuel cycle policy recommended in 2012 that the federal government abandon Yucca Mountain and select a new repository location with the consent of state and local officialdom. Amidst a hypersensitive political era in which half the country still yammers for the overturning of the 2016 presidential election, reaching unanimity on a nuclear waste site is as likely turning up the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.
Congressional Democrats are wedded to the “green” philosophy that shuns nuclear energy for its historical association with the world’s most powerful weaponry. They have successfully blocked funding for revival of the Yucca Mountain licensing process and if they have their way, nuclear power could eventually be banned for lack of storage space for depleted fuel.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, introduced a measure last month to determine whether the Nevada storage site should be cleared for operation, while also funding construction of a temporary facility to contain waste currently held in 39 states. “If we’re serious about reducing carbon emissions in a meaningful way, we need to get serious about dealing with nuclear waste,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement.
There is no safer repository for spent uranium than the remote Nevada wilderness. Mr. Trump should throw his weight behind legislation to end the deadlock and finally put to good use the billions American taxpayers have spent on Yucca Mountain.