Building of nuclear waste repository must move forward

Politics has stopped construction of the repository, but Washington state and South Carolina have wisely teamed together to force construction to continue.

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While Washington state and South Carolina might have an adversarial relationship when it comes to Boeing assembly plants, the states are in sync when it comes to fighting the federal government on its plan to stop construction of a national nuclear waste repository.

Washington and South Carolina have the most nuclear waste of the 36 states now holding it from nuclear power plants.

The Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington have tens of thousands of tons of waste from plutonium used in weapons production -- weapons made for the United States military.

The federal government has an obligation to safely store this nuclear waste created as a byproduct of nuclear weapons for national defense.

In 1987 Congress passed a law mandating a central waste repository be dug beneath Nevada's Yucca Mountain. To this point $10 billion has been spent building the repository and another $21 billion has been collected from surcharges on nuclear power.

Why then, after nearly a quarter of a century, isn't this nuclear storage facility completed?

Politics.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is very much against having this facility in his state. He has put the squeeze on President Obama, also a Democrat, to grind this project to a halt.

Washington and South Carolina want a panel of judges to force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move the project forward.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson argues the Energy Department stopped building the Yucca dump despite failing to get the required approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to abandon the project.

The Energy Department has spent $10 billion developing plans to bury at least 77,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel in the Nevada mountain. To abandon that plan now is as dangerous as it is a shameful waste of resources.

The nuclear material at Hanford needs to be stored, and stored safely. The federal government cannot continue to delay the cleanup up of 53 million gallons of radioactive waste contained in 177 tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

If Yucca Mountain does not become the nation's nuclear-waste repository, the billions of dollars spent at Hanford could be squandered. The nuclear waste at Hanford is being turned into glass logs designed to specifications for storage at Yucca Mountain.

An estimated one million gallons of waste-laden fluid has already leached into the soil . Eventually it will reach the Columbia River.

If this lawsuit can't get the Yucca Mountain project back on track, Congress needs to step on the throttle. It is imperative the nation's nuclear waste -- much of it just outside of the Tri-Cities -- be safely stored.

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