Why I support nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) said this week that "he supports nuclear energy as long as its highly radioactive waste is stored where it is produced," not at Yucca Mountain. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday that "About 74 kilograms of uranium leaked two weeks ago from a nuclear waste plant ... at the site behind (Sophie Delmas') mother's home in Bollene (France)." The report noted that 14,000 people live in Bollene.

Some observations

1.) Nuclear energy must be a part of the mix in solving America's energy problems. Relatively speaking, it's cheap, dependable, and better overall for the environment. In this regard, the French " who openly embraced nuclear energy as a means of achieving energy independence decades ago " are way ahead of us.

2.) There are 104 power plants located in and near residential communities throughout the United States; communities that have far more than 14,000 residents living in the shadow of the on-site nuclear waste storage "ponds" at those plants.

3.) There is no one living in the shadows of Yucca Mountain. Yes, there are some cows grazing in some fields in Amargosa Valley, but the population of the "big" town there " formerly known as Lathrop Wells " is only a tenth of the size of little Bollene, France. And it's located about 25 miles away from the proposed storage facility. Yucca Mountain simply isn't located behind anyone's mother's home.

Increased use of nuclear energy in the United States is inevitable, and storing the waste is risky no matter where it's stored. But storing the waste on-site is potentially far more dangerous to far more people than storing it at Yucca Mountain " a stone's throw away from the very area where the government once exploded nuclear bombs.

It only takes a little common sense to recognize that the risk of radioactive contamination in the ground is far greater when you explode a nuclear device than storing nuclear waste in state-of-the-art casks in a state-of-the-art storage facility nowhere near a major population center. And it only takes a little common sense to recognize that it would be far easier to monitor and control nuclear waste storage at one state-of-the-art high-tech facility than at 104 separate on-site facilities. So from a common-sense perspective, Yucca Mountain is a far better option than on-site storage.

Which naturally then raises the question of transporting the waste to Yucca Mountain. But the fact is it's far more dangerous to transport chlorine gas and such throughout the United States than it is to ship nuclear waste " and we ship chlorine gas throughout the United States every day. And truth be told, nuclear waste is, and has been, shipped throughout the United States to other waste facilities for years without incident.

Is transportation of nuclear waste a serious concern? Absolutely. But does it deserve all the hysteria emitted by the anti-Yucca crowd? Hardly. Let's face it, the transportation issue was invented by anti-Yucca politicians simply to get other states to join Nevada's opposition to Yucca Mountain. Politically, a stroke of genius. But in reality, a major league red herring.

If Yucca Mountain is indeed to become the site of the nation's nuclear waste repository " a fate which seems more and more likely now that the final licensing process is underway " then we need to minimize the potential risk to Nevadans while maximizing the offsetting benefits to our citizens for doing the nation this service.

Closing our eyes and hoping this whole nightmare will just go away " the preferred course of action for Nevada's elected officials over the last 20 years " is no longer an option. It's time to pull our collective heads out of the desert sand and begin some constructive engagement on this important issue before it's too late. Let the negotiations begin.

- Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at chuck@chuckmuth.com.


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