Roughly 20 percent of the electricity consumed by this energy-starved country comes from nuclear power plants, and it will be extremely difficult to build new ones, or replace aging ones, without a reasonable solution to the problem of spent fuel storage. Yucca Mountain, though not a perfect solution -- is there such a thing? -- was the best we had come up, at least until yesterday, when Secretary of Energy Steven Chu drove the final nail in its coffin, marking the triumph of fear over reason, politics over practical necessity.
Dying with it is the dream of a nuclear energy revival in the United States, since this administration's willingness to pull the plug on Yucca Mountain -- after 27 years of work and $13.5 billion spent -- can't help but discourage companies that might be considering the construction of new power plants, given all the regulatory and public relations hurdles they already face.
"Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Thursday that the proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada no longer is an option for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste, brushing aside criticism from several Republican lawmakers.
Instead, Chu said the Obama administration believes the about 60,000 tons of waste in the form of used reactor fuel can remain at nuclear power plants while a new, comprehensive plan for waste disposal is developed.
Chu's remarks touched off a sometimes testy exchange with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
Obama's rival for president last year, and provided the most definitive signal yet that the government's attempt to address the commercial nuclear waste problem is veering in a dramatically new direction.
At a hearing, McCain and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the decision not to pursue the Yucca Mountain project threatens the expansion of nuclear energy because the government can give no assurance on waste disposal."
McCain asked point blank," What's wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?"
To which Chu glibly replied: "I think we can do a better job."
That's quite an epitaph for a project that was researched and worked on for 27 years, at a cost of $13.5 billion. I wonder how many more years, and billions more dollars, it will take to come up with this illusive something "better"?
Who still questions whether we have radicals steering the ship of state? And who can tell me where 20 percent of our electricity will come from when existing nuclear power plants go cold?
Oh, that's right: we'll get it from windmills.
Opponents picked Yucca Mountain apart by arguing for perfection and playing on fear. It wasn't safe enough or secure enough or remote enough. Yet there's far less safety and security and remoteness in the alternative they now offer -- which is to leave these materials in the more than 100 scattered locations where they sit, waiting for final disposition, in facilities designed for temporary storage. All these facilities -- all these potential targets for terrorists -- are much closer to population centers than Yucca Mountain is.
That this news is greeted with a collective yawn demonstrates how completely disconnected the American people are. They sit back, complacently assuming the lights will go on when they flick the switch, while radicals wage all-out war on the very industries -- coal, nuclear, oil and gas -- that make this possible. They spew bromides about "energy independence," but allow these same radicals to advance policies that make that goal further and further out of reach. They live in a fantasy world, in which all their modern conveniences, and all their freedoms, are guaranteed in perpetuity, even as their chosen political leaders back policies that endanger both.
And most of them are so stubbornly ignorant about how things really work -- making it impossible for them to connect the dots between regulatory causes and market/consumer effects --that they'll undoubtedly blame the evil energy companies when they're left sitting in the cold and dark.
I'm stocking up on firewood and looking forward to that day.