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What others say: Stop kicking the can

The Seattle Times

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The view from the summit ridge of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump near Mercury, Nev.,looking west towards California.

JOE CAVARETTA, AP

Enlarge photo»

The following editorial appeared recently in the Seattle Times:

The federal court ruling Friday regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository is a signpost on a road to nowhere. In effect, it says, "Stop. Decide where you are going before proceeding any further."

The issue in the lawsuit at the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, is a federal tax - one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour - on nuclear electricity. The tax has been collected since the early 1980s, and the money credited to the Nuclear Waste Fund. As of Sept. 30, 2011, this fund's total was $26.7 billion.

Most of the money came from the eastern half of the country, but customers of Energy Northwest in Richland, Wash., - including Seattle City Light, Tacoma Power and Snohomish County PUD - have paid almost $300 million into that fund in the last 28 years.

The fund is supposed to pay for a long-term storage site for the nation's spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste, including waste now stored in tanks at Hanford, Wash. The storage was supposed to be built deep underground at Yucca Mountain, Nev. In 2010, the Obama administration canceled Yucca Mountain, but it has continued to collect the tax.

In a separate case, Washington state and South Carolina have sued the administration over the political decision to end the project, which squanders billions spent in planning and design. In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama made a campaign promise to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a longtime foe of the Yucca Mountain site. And he has followed through.

The lawsuit connected to last week's ruling argues that if there is no program, there should be no tax. That makes sense to us, and it made sense to the court, which gave the Department of Energy six months to come up with some kind of program or, presumably, stop the tax.

Our preference is not to end the tax but to restart Yucca Mountain. The nation needs a storage site for high-level waste. Even if no more commercial reactors are built - and two were approved in Georgia earlier this year - the government has to store the waste created in the past 70 years, and that created by existing reactors. The waste cannot be stored indefinitely in aboveground tanks - a strategy Energy Northwest has moved to in the absence of long-term storage.

Judge Laurence Silberman, who wrote Friday's ruling, expressed frustration at the government's repeated delays. Noting that the government wants to take another 10 to 15 years to find a site, he wrote, "The cliche, 'kick the can down the road,' seems inadequate."

Yes, it does.

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