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I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

And stops my mind from wandering

Where it will go . . .

I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door

And kept my mind from wandering

Where it will go . . .

--The Beatles

The country is much better off now that Harry Reid has retired. For many reasons. But the former Democratic leader in the United States Senate apparently rubbed off on some of his former colleagues. More's the pity.

For the Senate may still be the only obstacle to opening the Yucca Mountain storage facility. Or, more precisely, two of the 100 members of that august body.

Billions of dollars (American) have been spent on prepping the innards of Yucca Mountain to hold nuclear waste. And a lot of waste it is. For 30 years nuclear waste has been piling up around the nation. Estimates show more than 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel from civilian nuclear plants sit around in 121 different locations in 39 states. That's 121 potential targets for anybody with a bad attitude and worse intentions. It would be much safer to have all that waste sealed and guarded in one place--a place that can't leak, where the waste can do no harm to living things, where a hurricane or tidal wave would never reach. A place where this dry waste could be piled up behind layers of rock and titanium barriers.

Such a place has been searched for and studied thoroughly. The best place, experts say, is Yucca Mountain, which is less a mountain, really, than one more barren butte in a lunar landscape full of them.

Harry Reid, however, is from the state of Nevada. He used his considerable political muscle in Washington to keep the facility from opening--and therefore to keep nuclear waste spread across the land. What, Harry Reid worry? He had nervous constituents to please and elections to win. Never let it be said that Harry Reid put country first.

Now that he's retired, other politicians from Nevada are keeping the flames going with their own frantic fanning.

Last week the House of Representatives voted 340-72 to revive the Yucca Mountain site. President Trump's budget calls for $120 million to get the project back on track. But Nevada's two senators say they'll put a hold on it all.

"The House can vote all they want," Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a tweet. "But let's be clear--any bill that would turn Nevadans' backyards into a nuclear waste dump is dead on arrival. Yucca will never be anything more than a hole in the ground."

Well, if there was a proposal, anywhere, that called on turning "Nevadans' backyards into a nuclear waste dump," we might see her point of view. And agree with it. But that's not what the Yucca Mountain project is about. It's been studied no end. Only the crazy paranoid really think the way the good senator tweets. Likely, she's looking to the next election. As Harry Reid always did.

Speaking of elections, there's a Republican senator in a neck-and-neck race in Nevada these days. Dean Heller has vowed to stop any more money from going "toward this failed project." He didn't mention the reason it has failed in the past has much to do with Nevada politicians, like him, playing to the crowd.

Yucca Mountain doesn't have any rivers flowing through it to take radioactive waste downstream. Its water table lies 2,000 feet below the mountain's top and 1,000 feet below where the waste would be stored. It's in the middle of a basin in a desert where few people live, and its Death Valley hydrologic basin is quite different, and separate, from the Las Vegas aquifer. The mountain sits on the western edge of the Nevada Test Site, where close to 1,000 atomic weapons were detonated during the fissionable 1950s. The government already owns the land. More than $10 billion has been sunk into the plan, which basically made the innards of the mountain one big steel can.

We don't live in a risk-free world. But the project inside Yucca Mountain is about as fail-safe as humans will ever get.

Nuclear power is here to stay, or at least let's hope so because of its many advantages over fossil fuels. Which means nuclear waste is here to stay, too. And the country needs a safe, centralized place to put the stuff. It has one, bought and paid for. It's called Yucca Mountain.

If you're looking for directions, go to nowhere, and look for the middle.

Editorial on 05/14/2018

Print Headline: Only a hole in the ground

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