Money for Yucca

Frank Patten is a native Nevadan who lives and works in Reno.

The President’s recent campaign visit to Reno revived Nevada’s debate over Yucca Mountain. John Hadder, writing in the pages of the Reno News & Review [“Where’s the science?” RN&R, June 17], argued that George Bush reneged on his promise to base his decisions on the Yucca project on sound science. “Science,” says Hadder, “points away from Yucca Mountain.”

Hadder would have you believe that the entire scientific community is united in opposing the project. That is simply untrue. Take just one prominent scientist, U.C. Davis physicist and engineering professor Paul Craig, who resigned in January from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board to criticize the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste technology.

Craig spoke in Reno on Feb. 18. Craig and the entire NWTRB are concerned about the selection of Alloy-22 to encapsulate reactor waste. They say Alloy-22 won’t work and want the DOE to go back to the drawing board, but Craig also said, “I would never say Yucca Mountain won’t work.” (RGJ, Feb. 19)

The DOE is in a difficult position. More than $15 billion collected for the project from electricity users sit unused in the Treasury, yet last month, Congressional opponents of Yucca attempted to cut the DOE’s budget for the project by 85 percent. Given the choice between sound science and sound politics, who do you expect DOE to favor?

Perhaps sound science is a fiction after all. The Manhattan Project was established to build the Bomb based solely on a letter from Einstein to FDR. NASA invented the science of space travel by sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.

The community of science is not an infallible Congress of Cardinals meeting in Rome. In all fields, science is rife with controversy. The problem of Alloy-22 must be addressed, but sound science requires money and tons of it. The real dangers inherent in the Yucca project result from doing it on the cheap and using the funding process to score political points for Election Day.

The waste storage project has two decades of bipartisan support behind it. Twelve Congresses, four Presidents and many roll-call votes prove this consensus. The Three Mile Island accident created this consensus, which has led us to Yucca Mountain. Addressing the problem of nuclear waste is long overdue.

The Democrats want to rally their Greens to take back the Congress and White House. That is sound politics, too. However, squeezing Yucca for funds at the same time that the very scientists who are working on the project are calling for a review of Alloy-22 proves that not only Republicans have disdain for sound science.

Nevada’s representatives and senators must work for full funding of the Yucca project in order to make it as safe as possible. Like the Egyptians at Giza, we are building for the ages, and we will be inventing the science of nuclear waste storage for generations to come.