President-elect Barack Obama says he favors nuclear energy, and yesterday his Energy secretary nominee Steven Chu said he intends to fast-track the construction of new domestic nuclear plants. At the same time, Obama is against the proposed high-level nuclear storage facility at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. With just days remaining before Obama takes office, Western politicians are staking out their own positions on nuclear issues.
This week Nevada's Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and his Republican colleague Sen. John Ensign stressed unity in their opposition to Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
"At this time when we have the best chance of killing Yucca Mountain once and for all, we should not be divided as a state," said Ensign. Reid said Yucca Mountain -- already costing more than $15 billion -- is "a symbol of everything bad about government waste," and pledged to make deep budget cuts to the project, even if some Nevadans employed there may lose their jobs.
"Yucca Mountain is a safety issue for the people of this country. We are not going to be deterred from where we think the Yucca Mountain waste should go. It should stay where it is," said Reid, advocating that each nuclear facility provide its own storage.
Meanwhile Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) proposed up to $7 billion in a national economic recovery package for cleanup work at Hanford -- a bomb factory during World War II -- and other DOE nuclear sites. The DOE has also offered a $6 billion proposal to reduce the size of large contaminated sites and complete cleanup at smaller sites. Murray made her comments a confirmation hearing for Peter Orszag, nominated for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
In 2008, the DOE estimated total cleanup costs at $225 billion -- $100 billion more than the year before.