I Certainly Don’t Know Everything About Nuclear Power…

…but I am interested in its potential to help solve the energy and climate crises, which is why I appreciated filmmaker Robert Stone’s recent Planet Forward post about how environmentalists are beginning to reconsider their historical position on nuclear energy.  Mr. Stone also explained that one particularly promising U.S. nuclear program was halted by political and ideological concerns in 1994.  Upon reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder: how much have things changed since then?

On the plus side, in February President Obama showed a willingness to reach across the aisle when he offered conditional loan guarantees worth a total of $8.33 billion for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia.  This move garnered praise—albeit lukewarm praise—from spokesmen for Republican Senators McConnell and Murkowski, because Republicans in Congress favor nuclear power over traditional “green” sources.

However, recent news involving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission illustrates the extent to which aversion to nuclear siting (I’d call it “NIMBYism,” but in this case the phrase “Not Anywhere In My State” seems to describe the sentiment more accurately) still affects the political process.  Earlier this week, Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko admitted that he substantially delayed a Commission ruling pertaining to the Department of Energy’s license application for a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  This admission gave rise to suspicions, which Jaczko denies, that he intentionally delayed the ruling until after the midterm elections to protect his former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  (Jaczko served as Reid’s appropriations director and science policy advisor until joining the NRC in 2005.)  The Yucca Mountain repository project is unpopular among Nevada residents, and any progress in its development would have complicated things for Reid, who was in the midst of a tough reelection campaign.

Regardless of whether there was any impropriety in Mr. Jaczko’s decision, the ongoing controversy surrounding our national waste repository program underscores the difficulty of expanding our nuclear capabilities.  Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, specifying a detailed procedure for the selection of a repository site, in 1982.  Almost thirty years later, we still don’t have a site.

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