The following editorial appeared recently in the Sacramento Bee:
Exposure to nuclear waste is dangerous. Exposure to hypocrisy over nuclear waste should also be avoided.
That's a tough challenge in the current race for the White House. Both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney say they support a new generation of nuclear power plants. But both have muddled plans on what to do with the high-level nuclear waste from those plants and waste from an older generation of reactors.
These muddled positions are no accident. They have everything to do with politics — namely, Nevada's six electoral votes that are up for grabs on Nov. 6.
Since 1987, Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been the federal government's leading candidate for a high-level nuclear waste repository. Yet despite the $10 billion spent on the project, the Yucca Mountain repository is unlikely to open in 2017, just as it failed to open in 1998, the original deadline. And it certainly won't open anytime in the future if Obama or Romney have anything to do with it.
Since becoming president, Obama has attempted to kill the Yucca Mountain project. Obama's Energy Department has sought to withdraw its application for license on the project. And Obama has appointed a critic of Yucca Mountain, to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
No doubt, studies have found technical and engineering challenges with Yucca Mountain. Water moves through this site's underground geology quicker than scientists originally thought.
But that is not the reason Yucca Mountain is facing a near-death experience. Even the Government Accountability Office has concluded that political, not technical, hurdles have stalled this project. The biggest of these is Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada. Reid, still angry that Congress teamed up against Nevada to designate Yucca Mountain as the nation's waste repository in 1987, is determined to kill the project and has an ally in Obama.
It would be one thing if Reid and Obama were philosophically opposed to nuclear power. They are not. Both say they support a new generation of nuclear power plants. Yet they have yet to outline a long-term plan for safely storing waste from these plants, and more ominously, highly toxic waste from the nation's nuclear weapons plants.
You might think Romney, as a supporter of nuclear power, would point out the contradictions of Obama's policy. But he seems as interested in pandering for Nevada votes as the president. In last October's primary debate, Romney argued that states should be allowed to decide if they wanted to host a nuclear waste repository.
If you left the decision to the states, the nation's next repository would be built on ... Mars.