What should the nation do with its nuclear waste?
The answer should be easy -- and obvious. The waste must be rendered inert or safely contained and then stored in a place where the environment is protected.
Well, that's been the plan for decades. Billions and billions of dollars have been spent preparing Yucca Mountain, Nev., to serve as the nation's nuclear waste repository.
Meanwhile, billions more have been spent at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation preparing to turn the nuclear waste into glass logs. The facilities at Hanford, which has about 70 percent of the nation's nuclear waste, have been designed and constructed to meet Yucca Mountain standards. This includes the $12.2 billion vitrification plant, which turns the waste to glass, and the containers holding irradiated fuel pulled from Hanford's storage basins.
But that plan, which has been in the works for nearly 30 years, is now changing.
The Obama administration is pulling the plug on establishing Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository. The Department of Energy is withdrawing its license application for Yucca Mountain filed last year with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And DOE wants its application withdrawn "with prejudice." That means the federal government's application could not be reconsidered at a later date.
Yucca Mountain will be off the table as an option to store nuclear waste.
The action by the Obama administration is as foolish as it is outrageous. Billions of dollars as well as years of progress will be wasted if the Obama administration prevails.
But Washington state has wisely given legal notice that it will seek to become a party in the licensing proceedings. The ultimate goal is to prevent the DOE from pulling the plug on Yucca Mountain.
State Attorney General Rob McKenna said he is "deeply disturbed by the federal government's departure from a repository plan that dates back to the early 1980s, and particularly the apparent aim to take one of the nation's options off the table."
Those of us living in the Walla Walla Valley have had nuclear waste in our backyard since World War II. We fully understand the dire consequences if the nuclear waste leaks into the water.
The nuclear waste is at Hanford because that's where the material was made for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The bombs and the nuclear waste were created on behalf of the entire nation, and that nation has a responsibility to clean up this nuclear mess.
According to state Department of Ecology estimates made about two years ago, it will take about 140 years for cleanup to be completed. The single-shell tanks holding the nuclear waste have already been used 30 years longer than originally intended.
It's critical the process moves forward, not backward. Plans for the repository at Yucca Mountain must proceed.