OPINION: Wall Street Journal and Washington Post Opinion Pages on Investigation into Political Manipulation in Yucca Mountain Shutdown

June 10, 2011

Wall Street Journal
Obama's Nuclear Politics

By Kim Strassel
June 10, 2011

The Obama administration has shown a certain ruthless streak when it comes to getting what it wants. For its latest in brass-knuckle tactics, consider the ongoing fight over the proposed Yucca nuclear waste facility.

This tale begins in 2008, when candidate Obama was determined to win Nevada, a crucial electoral state. Catering to locals, Mr. Obama promised to kill plans--approved by Congress--to make the state's Yucca Mountain the repository for spent nuclear fuel. He was backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevadan who has made Yucca's demise an overriding priority.

Shortly after inauguration, Messrs. Obama and Reid teamed up to elevate Gregory Jaczko to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nation's independent regulator. Mr. Jaczko was anything but a neutral designee, having served for years on the staffs of both Mr. Reid and Massachusetts' antinuke Rep. Edward Markey. As a Reid adviser, Mr. Jaczko headed up opposition to Yucca. The clear intent in making him chairman was to ensure Yucca's demise.

Toward that end, the Obama Department of Energy quickly filed a formal request with the NRC to revoke the license application for Yucca. A coalition of states and industry groups--drowning in spent fuel--then petitioned to prevent the department from doing so. The issue was thrown to a panel of NRC administrative judges. Much to the administration's frustration, they ruled unanimously in June of last year that the Energy Department lacked the authority to "singlehandedly derail" a policy that had been directed by Congress.

Enter the brass knuckles.

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Washington Post
Radioactive politics over nuclear storage at Yucca Mountain

By Editorial
June 7, 2011

DEMOCRATS ON THE House Energy Committee unloaded on the Obama administration last Wednesday. "The abject failure to follow federal law here is most disturbing," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.). "I'm embarrassed," said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).

What had Messrs. Inslee, Butterfield and others so upset?

Yucca Mountain, a lonely lump of earth in the Nevada desert.

After years of work, President Bush and Congress in 2002 decided that the site was suitable for an underground facility to contain the nuclear waste produced in U.S. reactors. In 2008, the Energy Department filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent nuclear authority, for a license for the facility. But the project had powerful enemies, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and the president promised swing-state Nevada voters during the 2008 campaign that he would kill it. This Mr. Obama's Energy Department did last year, zeroing out funds and attempting to quash the government's license application. Meanwhile, 65,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel is packed next to dozens of reactor sites around the country, and Messrs. Inslee and Butterfield have to explain where the fees their constituents paid into a nuclear cleanup fund went.

Now, the House is holding hearings after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that after decades of study and $15?billion spent, the Energy Department did not have technical or safety grounds on which to end the Yucca Mountain project. In fact, admitted Assistant Energy Secretary Pete Lyons last Wednesday, the administration's decision-making concerned "a question of social, public acceptance." Yet the DOE rapidly dismantled the program in a way that makes it difficult to restart work should the politics change. The administration claimed that there are more attractive alternatives but didn't say what they were, instead appointing another panel.

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