A few days after Senator Barack Obama welcomed the idea of building new commercial nuclear reactors in the United States, he criticized Senator John McCain for proposing to build 45 new reactors by 2030 without a solution for nuclear waste. Speaking in Las Vegas, Nevada he disparaged McCain for offshore drilling as well:
Meanwhile, the oil companies already own drilling rights to 68 million acres of federal lands, onshore and offshore, that they haven’t touched. 68 million acres that have the potential to nearly double America’s total oil production, and John McCain wants to give them more. Well that might make sense in Washington, but it doesn’t make sense for America. In fact, it makes about as much sense as his proposal to build 45 new nuclear reactors without a plan to store the waste some place other than right here at Yucca Mountain. Folks, these are not serious energy policies.”
Playing into the hands of the Las Vegas elite, Obama used the geologic repository Yucca Mountain as a scare tactic. Yet, he neglected to mention that the majority Nye County, the home of Yucca Mountain, is in favor of building Yucca for the jobs and economic stimulation it could bring to the county.
Regardless, Yucca Mountain, as critical as it is to the management of used nuclear fuel, is not a alone long-term solution. The amount of used nuclear fuel already accumulated in this country is near the 70,000 ton statutory limit. Furthermore, if nuclear power production increased by 1.8 percent annually after 2010, a 120,000-ton (what most scientists believe its actual capacity is) Yucca would be full by 2030. Fortunately, The Heritage Foundation’s Jack Spencer outlined a free-market approach to managing used nuclear fuel that included these critical implementations:
• Create the legal framework that allows the private sector to price geologic storage as a commodity;
• Empower the private sector to manage used fuel;
• Repeal the 70,000-ton limitation on the Yucca Mountain repository and instead let technology, science, and physical capacity determine the appropriate limit;
• Create a private entity that is representative of but independent from nuclear operators to manage Yucca Mountain;
• Repeal the mil, abolish the Nuclear Waste Fund, and transfer the remaining funds to a private entity to cover the expenses of constructing Yucca Mountain; and
• Limit the federal government’s role to providing oversight, basic research, and development and taking title of spent fuel upon repository decom¬missioning.
Overhauling the nation’s nuclear-waste management regime will not be easy. It will require a significant amendment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and a long-term commitment by Congress, the Administration, and industry. But developing such a system would put the United States well on its way to re-establishing itself as a global leader in nuclear energy.