Here’s an area in which President Obama and his fellow Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have allowed local partisan politics to override the clear national interest.
Unfortunately, it’s also an issue on which Mitt Romney has tried to avoid taking any position whatsoever.
The debate is over the use of Yucca Mountain, a vast piece of federal property deep in the Nevada desert, as a repository for the nation’s growing stockpiles of high-level nuclear waste generated by power plants. Since the early ’80s, the Department of Energy has spent almost $15 billion studying and preparing the Yucca Mountain site to store such waste, but because of opposition from the Obama administration and Reid, Nevada’s senior senator, those efforts have been abandoned.
Yucca Mountain may not be a perfectly safe solution to handling nuclear waste for the thousands of years necessary. Given the immense time frames involved, a perfectly safe solution probably does not exist. But Yucca is clearly the best and safest option that we have available. Wisely or not, we are creating more and more such waste all the time, and we have an obligation not just to our species but to the planet to handle it as responsibly as we can.
However, 30 years ago, as editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I learned firsthand how deep the opposition in Nevada runs to serving as the nation’s nuclear-waste dump. That opposition was compounded by the state’s experience serving as the site of above-ground nuclear tests during the ’50s and early ’60s, when federal officials repeatedly lied to local residents about the amount of radiation being released and its potential health effects.
Maybe it’s opportunistic politics for Reid. Maybe his opposition is sincere, a product of growing up in Nevada during the above-ground testing era. Whatever the cause, Reid has bitterly opposed the Yucca Mountain repository throughout his career. In the 2008 election, Obama echoed that opposition, helping him to carry the state.
Four years later, Romney has real hopes of reversing that outcome in Nevada, which has a large and influential Mormon population. As Humberto Sanchez reports in Roll Call, the former Massachusetts governor has expressed sympathy for Nevada’s situation but has made no promises about continuing to block progress on the repository.
The issue is also testament to the advantages and drawbacks of the electoral college system. In a presidential campaign decided by popular vote, Nevada would have very little leverage on candidates. Under the current system, as a potential swing state it can demand that its wishes be respected, even if by doing so the overall national interest is damaged.
– Jay Bookman