Dale Klein, Commissioner and former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) challenged the premise on which President Obama based his move to withdraw the application to permit the geologic repository at Yucca Mountain. At a conference in Bethesda, Maryland yesterday Commissioner Klein emphasized that it was politics, not science, which led to this decision. Klein said,

Frankly, I would have preferred the White House to plainly say that it was implementing a policy change. The president has the right and responsibility to set policy, and clearly, an issue of national importance and complexity such as this needs to be periodically revisited. However, in my opinion, the administration’s stated rationale for changing course does not seem to rest on factual findings and thus does not bolster the credibility of our government to handle this matter competently.”

Those who would distort the science of Yucca Mountain for political purposes should be reminded that it was a year ago today that the president issued his memorandum on scientific integrity, in which he stated that ‘The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.’

I honestly cannot say if Yucca Mountain could ever meet the stringent tests that would allow it to be licensed. But I do know that, under the law, that licensing determination — and the technical evaluation of the science — is the NRC’s responsibility.”

In a testimony last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu asserted, “As these things go on, you are beginning to think, ‘Are you pouring good money after bad?

That may be the case but we’ll never know if the NRC is unable to fill its obligations to determine Yucca’s viability. No scientific or technological justification was given for pulling Yucca off the table as a possible solution. In fact, a 2006 U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works report argues just the opposite: the repository is safe and technologically sound. Secretary Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission to answer the question of what to do with America’s waste should not exclude Yucca Mountain as a potential solution.

It’s certainly possible Yucca Mountain is not the answer, but that decision should be left to the NRC, not President Obama and the Department of Energy. Research Fellow Jack Spencer points out that “Nothing in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act authorizes the President or the Secretary of Energy to stop this process. Besides, given that a geologic repository will eventually be needed, the application process will provide the NRC, DOE, and the nuclear industry valuable information to inform future decision-making.”

President Obama’s decision on Yucca Mountain could have long-standing implications for the future of nuclear energy in the United States. Commissioner Klein should be applauded for stated what many believe to be true. Those who like to portray themselves as pro-nuclear should follow his lead and demand that the Administration allow the NRC to continue its review of the Yucca application so that the science can be settled once and for all.