Barack's Bi-Polar Nuclear Policy

President Barack Obama recently took drastic steps forward to carry through on his campaign promise to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility before it ever opens for business. His Department of Energy (DOE) successfully petitioned judges hearing license requests for the dump site to cancel the hearings. The final step in Obama's effort to kill the project for good will be to completely withdraw the DOE application for Yucca Mountain.

Yucca Mountain has been designed as a specialized storage center to keep nuclear waste safely contained in an underground facility deep inside a mountain, long after the material is believed safe and no longer radioactive. The storage center is on a military base almost one hundred miles from civilization (and that's Las Vegas, for what it's worth), in the middle of the Nevada desert.

It may sound like the Yucca Mountain site is in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it's under the middle of nowhere.

Interestingly, the actions of Obama's DOE are in defiance of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly approved in 2002. 

Gilles Whittel, reporting for the Times (U.K.) online, wrote the following about the Yucca mountain facility:

About $9 billion (£5.6 billion) was spent on the first phase of concrete tunnels and chambers designed to keep waste safe for at least a million years.[my emphasis] A 5 mile (8km) U-shaped tunnel was bored into the side of the extinct volcano, which is inside the Nevada nuclear test site.

Closing Yucca Mountain will leave 130,000 metric tons of nuclear waste stranded at 131 different sites spread across 39 states. The federal government will be at risk of breach-of-contract lawsuits for breaking agreements with utility companies. Some estimates indicate the potential for the Obama DOE could incur more than 50 billion dollars of legal liability in the case. [Hat tip: Nye County YMIC]

That is the biggest drawback to Obama's bright new idea for creating green power, which is to add two new nuclear reactors in rural Burke County, Georgia. What will we do with the nuclear waste produced by these new reactors? And for that matter, what about the waste from the current reactors in Tennessee and South Carolina?

One may be wondering how critical the problem of storing nuclear waste has become.  According to an article on, "Currently, 70,000 tons of radioactive waste are stored at more than 100 nuclear sites around the country, and 2,000 tons are added every year."

How is all this stuff being stored today?  Expended nuclear waste is typically kept in special canisters stored above ground and constructed of concrete, steel, and lead at the reactor's plants, which generate them as a temporary solution. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the expected lifespan of these containers to be ninety years, though how that number was determined is unclear. Nuclear energy didn't exist ninety years ago, and therefore nuclear waste hasn't been kept in one of these containers for ninety years to test the theory.

The rub lies in a fact that CNN also reported: "After uranium has been used in a reactor, the spent fuel remains radioactive for thousands of years."

Okay, so our means of storage is good for ninety years, but the threat from this radioactive material could last for two thousand or more. I'm not a nuclear scientist, but that doesn't sound like a viable long-term solution to me.

Harry Reid chimed in on the debate and said, "Leave it on-site where it is. You don't have to worry about transporting it. [Not transporting nuclear waste s]aves the country billions and billions of dollars."

Harry, I never claimed to be a math whiz, but the numbers just don't seem to add up. It might save a few dollars in transportation costs over the short term, but what happens in thirty or forty years when these temporary above-ground containers expire?    

Why would Obama close the only viable answer to long-term storage of nuclear waste while he simultaneously calls for additional nuclear power plants? One reason, though not a very good one, is that he made closing Yucca Mountain a campaign issue. Another would be his obligations to radical environmental groups opposed to the facility. As for rational reasons, I'm still trying to think of one.

John Leonard can be reached at He is the Atlanta Creationism writer for His first book, titled Hybrid Theory: Reconciling Creationism and Evolution Theory, is pending publication by epress-online.
If you experience technical problems, please write to