Ambrose: Obama unrealistically nods to Nevada on nuclear waste 

Yucca Mountain in Nevada, it has been written, is "the most studied real estate on the planet." Scientists have been at it for three decades, and it’s reported that most have concluded it is a safe, appropriate place to store nuclear waste.

Sen. Barack Obama would rather travel the more dangerous, more expensive, wholly irrational route of letting the waste stay in states where it was generated.

Please, never let it be as much as whispered that this self-proclaimed exemplar of bold, new leadership was looking ahead to the Nevada presidential caucuses in voicing this position at a Las Vegas debate of Democrats seeking a home in the White House. Let’s assume instead that he has really thought this issue through with no trace of political consideration, and then let’s ponder his thinking processes.

For starters, he has to disregard the fact that literally billions of dollars have been spent and top scientists in a variety of fields employed in determining that Yucca is more than suitable for a national waste repository.

An advantage is that the site is arid, making it unlikely you’d get sufficient water to seep through 1,000 feet of rock and erode state-of-the-art canisters, allowing the waste inside to seep an equal distance further down to poison a water table. The waste will not retreat into harmlessness for as long as 10,000 years, but here is the good news: The canisters could be retrieved up to 300 years from now if some error in calculation or improved technology should be discovered.

Obama talks about his sure-fire ability as a future president to do the right thing against large odds, forgetting on this issue that it has in fact taken toughness and courage for the Bush administration and others to push ahead to establish a single site as a repository, something recommended by the National Academies of Science a half-century ago but opposed, naturally enough, by those who don’t want their state to be the chosen place. He talked instead about being "fair" to Nevada by having laboratories such as one in his state of Illinois develop techniques for storage of the waste that avoid the need of shipping it to "somebody else’s backyard."

The idea that there are places in Illinois more secure and safer than Yucca Mountain is a stretch, and you wonder whether Obama is prepared to repeat what has already been done at Yucca: billions of dollars and years and years worth of investigation. He might avoid that pain with a cheap minute’s worth of contemplation informing him that continued storage in the states is an unneeded, costly burden to utility consumers and taxpayers.

Obama gets it that nuclear energy has to be at least part of "the mix" of this nation’s energy future. But he may not be wise enough to understand that the building of more nuclear plants to aid in various highly important objectives is made many times more problematic by a failure to get on with the Yucca project, which keeps getting expensively postponed.

Obama is hardly alone in his confusion. But what grates on one is that he embraces such muddy-headed positions while simultaneously telling us how he personifies a virtually unique reasonableness.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at

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