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Nuke what?

For more than 20 years the federal government had been building a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.   Built deep underground, the facility was never popular with Nevadans who didn’t want it “in their back yard”.  Haven’t heard of Yucca Mountain?  Not surprising that you wouldn’t have, unless you’re a true news junkie as nuclear fuel storage isn’t something a great many think about on a daily basis.  Or are concerned about for that matter.

Yet nuclear storage was then, and is even more so now, of grave importance.  The United States has 65 Nuclear power plants, with 104 reactors.  Each of those reactors use nuclear fuel that must be exchanged every so often with fresh fuel.  The old fuel is highly radioactive and must be stored in special containers in a secure environment for protection of the surrounding communities, but also to protect it from terrorists that would love to get their hands on it.  Federal law requires the Federal government to provide a permanent storage for the used fuel, which will take thousands of years to become inert.  But they’ve never done that, as Yucca Mountain has been mired in politics for all of that twenty year period.  So the spent fuel is stored at each of the Nuclear power plant facilities in make-shift storage areas.  Instead of one centralized location which can be guarded the country must instead deal with 65 separate storage sites that are near communities.

President Obama campaigned on shutting down Yucca Mountain, and instead of treating this like all of his other broken promises, he’s actually followed through.  He shut down Yucca Mountain.  Yet we as a country are too dependent on foreign oil, and the vast majority of our power plants are coal fired, which are rather dirty by nature.  Coal fired plants also produce fly ash, which is cancerous and if not disposed of properly, can allow heavy metals to leech into ground water and soil.  It’s no wonder many have wanted to re-emphasize nuclear power in the United States, but because of 3-mile island have not been able to since the late 1970’s.  However that is beginning to change with the uptick in the price of oil over the past two years.

Today comes notice that the Obama administration is moving forward with loan guarantees for building of new nuclear power plants.  Hurrah, except the problem with the permanent storage of the spent nuclear fuel.  Ignoring the problem does not make it go away Mr. President.  And it certainly doesn’t make it less risky for those communities either.

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