An Unfortunate Anniversary for Yucca Mountain

Rob Bluey /

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act set Jan. 31, 1998 as the deadline to opening the Yucca Mountain repository for spent nuclear fuel. Today marks the 10 year anniversary of that mandate.

Thanks to a hand full of myopic politicians from Nevada, few would argue that the nation is any closer today than it was a decade ago to opening Yucca Mountain. This is not because of science. The Department of Energy has done numerous studies and Environmental Impact Statements that declare the Yucca repository safe. It is not because of money. America’s electricity ratepayers have paid $27 billion to fund the Yucca project. Of that $8 billion has been spent. It is for one reason and one reason only: politics.

As a memo from the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works points out, no one wins by scuttling Yucca. America’s ratepayers lose. Without a workable regime for spent fuel management, investors are wary of risking the billions of dollars needed to build new plants. These plants could contribute to the CO2-free, safe, affordable energy that Americans need to meet their growing electricity demand. Taxpayers lose as well. The federal government is liable for not meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. $420 million have been awarded already and that liability could reach up to $11 billion by 2020 if nothing is done—all of which is paid by taxpayers. And finally, Nevadans lose. Sixty-three high-paying, technical jobs have been lost so far and 500 more are to follow. More will follow that unless the project moves forward.