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Dear Illinois, Is it OK for Harry Reid to Re-Gift Nuclear Waste?

Dennis Byrne 14 June 2010 3 Comments

There are plenty of reasons for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to go, and not the least is the shafting that he is giving to Illinois and its electric utility customers.

Reid effectively is blocking the completion of a safe, permanent storage facility for high-level radioactive waste deep under Yucca Mountain in Nevada, leaving Illinois and others states without a solution for how to store spent nuclear fuel.

The action could cost ComEd and electric utility customers megabucks, representing the money ratepayers have been forking over to build a permanent depository. The irony is that Reid’s hosing of Illinois is being administered by the administration of President Barack Obama, who calls Illinois home.

We’ve been reminded of all this by news of the start of the dismantling of the Zion nuclear power plant, shut down a dozen years ago. Arrangements have been to disassemble the plant, piece and piece, and transport its materials, some of it classified as lower level radioactive, to a safe site elsewhere.

What will remain on the site, however, are 2.2 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel and 80,000 pounds of highly radioactive material. It was supposed to have been sent to the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, where it would have been a threat to no one. Scientists and engineers had worked for decades to find and develop the site, making it one of the most studied pieces of geology in the world. By 2008, some $9 billion had been spent on the project, a lot of it funded by customers of nuclear generating plants. Because the Chicago area has one of the largest concentrations of nuclear plants in the country, ComEd customers have been hit up for a significant amount of coin.

But it was considered to be worth it, because the costs and benefits of the Yucca Mountain project outweighed the costs and safety issues of storing high-level, spent nuclear fuel on the Zion and other sites. That won’t happen, thanks to Reid.

Reid, following his worst NIMBY instincts, long opposed the Yucca Mountain facility and when he became majority leader after the mid-term elections in 2006, he had an opportunity to act is his own–but not the country’s–best interests. He crowed, “Yucca Mountain is dead. It’ll never happen.” Indeed, Congress now has drastically cut project funding and the Obama administration’s Department of Energy last March applied the coup, asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw its license to complete the project.

That leaves the federal government with a bill of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, for reneging on its contract to provide the repository. As a result, multiple lawsuits have been filed by states and other stakeholders challenging DOE’s withdrawal from the project. The issue is whether the action violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), as amended in 1987, that designated Yucca Mountain as the national repository for high-level nuclear waste.

Reid, abetted by Obama, is contravening the law that hands the DOE the responsibility for finding a site for a permanent repository, and then building and operating it. DOE is seeking to de-designate Yucca Mountain without a clear (or even a murky) idea of what it believes should be done with the nation’s most dangerous nuclear waste. I should amend that: the department itself had been working energetically to implement the Yucca Mountain project. What we have now is a clearly political decision overruling the experts.

Without a shred of evidence that a better solution is found elsewhere, the Obama administration has done Illinois and the nation a huge disservice. Under Obama, politics haven’t changed one bit.


Dennis Byrne is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image spent nuclear fuel at Hanford


  • Dear Illinois, Is it OK for Harry Reid to Re-Gift Nuclear Waste … (author) said:

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  • davelv said:

    If killing Yucca Mountain is so bad for Illinois, then why isn’t Illinois one of the states suing to ensure the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is followed?

    Your complaint should be with the Attorney General of Illinois, not with Senator Reid who is just doing his job to keep your nuclear waste out of his state.

  • davelv said:

    BTW, the project is dead dead dead. The DOE has ordered the contractors to issue WARN Act notices to everyone. DOE people don’t do squat – they are merely overseerers of the real scientists and engineers who design the repository. Once the contractors are gone, Illinois will be stuck for the next 50 years with its nuclear waste.

    When the first terrorist or natural event spreads radioactive waste across the state, who will the population blame? Reid and Obama of course – the ones that are still alive…

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