President-elect Barack Obama has a number of challenges to tackle when he takes office in January. One of his promises is to change the weather — by addressing global climate change.

While only Congress (or the EPA) can implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade policy, Obama would surely sign the bill. In fact, in his New Energy for America plan, he called for a cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

To put this in perspective, the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade legislation that quickly died on the Senate floor in June proposed 70% reduction of 2005 levels by 2050. The Heritage Foundation released a study on the economic costs of the Lieberman-Warner climate change act that detailed the burden cap-and-trade would impose on the economy. If the Lieberman-Warner bill would have imposed a $4.8 trillion hit to GDP by 2030 and nearly 1 million jobs lost in certain years, just imagine what Obama’s plan would do. The Heritage analysis of the Lieberman-Warner bill also projects a huge jump in energy prices, including gasoline.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining or perhaps, a silver bullet. Obama supports nuclear energy. In a primary debate at Dartmouth last year, he asserted:

I don’t think that we can take nuclear power off the table. What we have to make sure of is that we have the capacity to store waste properly and safely, and that we reduce whatever threats might come from terrorism. And if we can do that in a technologically sound way, then we should pursue it.

While this is encouraging, hurdles to expand nuclear remain. In terms of managing spent nuclear fuel:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden do not believe that Yucca Mountain is a suitable site. They will lead federal efforts to look for safe, long-term disposal solutions based on objective, scientific analysis.

With a nuclear energy push on the horizon, resolving the issue of managing spent nuclear fuel will be critical to the sustainability of nuclear power in the United States. But there are two big problems with Obama and Biden’s position.

First, both recycling and interim storage would provide flexibility, but geologic storage is a must-have and what better place than Yucca Mountain? Worried about getting it there? Don’t be. Nuclear waste has been transported on roads and railways worldwide for years without a significant incident. Indeed, more than 20 million packages with radioactive materials are transported globally each year — 3 million of them in the United States. Since 1971, more than 20,000 shipments of spent fuel and high-level waste have been transported more than 18 million miles without incident.

Obama says we need solutions based on objective, scientific evidence. Yucca Mountain has all that. No scientific, safety, or technological reason prevents it. Volumes of data attest to the repository’s safety. These data have been generated by numerous sources, including both private and government entities. Simply put, this is a political issue — not a scientific one.

And secondly, Obama argues for federal efforts to lead the charge, but that’s the last thing we need. The federal government has been at fault since the industry’s decline. The federal government promised to take title of the used fuel and dispose of it; this removed any incentive for the private sector to develop better ways to manage the fuel that could be more consistent with an emerging nuclear industry. The government’s role should be limited to strict government oversight and fast-tracking new reactors. Heritage’s nuclear expert Jack Spencer has a comprehensive, free-market plan to manage nuclear waste.

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