The perennially optimistic strained to find evidence of a new centrism in President Obama's State of the Union address. Well, the Hyde Park liberal embraced nuclear power, they say. And he did seem to.
" ... To create more ... clean energy jobs," the president intoned, "we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."
It's a nice sentiment. The Nuclear Energy Institute pronounced itself "delighted." But hold the champagne.
The other nuclear news this week is that the Obama administration's new budget will propose to zero out funding for Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear repository -- in effect, killing it. Instead, the Energy Department has announced the formation of a "blue ribbon" commission "to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation's used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste." It will consist of the usual blue ribbon members (Lee Hamilton, Brent Scowcroft, Susan Eisenhower) and produce an interim report in 18 months and a final report in 24. The commission will have 15 members and God knows how many staff, and accordingly, the costs will run into the millions.
And why are we forming yet another blue ribbon commission to study a matter that has already been studied to death? The commission is empowered to study "all options" except the one that has already been chosen by the United States government. So much for the previous blue ribbon commission that had settled on the Yucca Mountain site.
American taxpayers have already invested more than $13 billion over 30 years to build the facility and make it redundantly safe. In 1982, the U.S. government agreed to begin accepting nuclear waste at the site in 1998. Failure to meet that deadline has already cost us $565 million in legal settlements and is estimated to run up to $11 billion over the next decade.
The Yucca Mountain repository is 1,000 feet underground in the most lifeless desert of North America. Its storage tunnels have been engineered to enhance the natural protective effect of thick rock by adding multiple layers of steel, titanium drip shields to prevent erosion, and other safety features to ensure that the waste (which becomes less harmful with the passage of time) will not leak.
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