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Like many Americans, you may not have an opinion on nuclear waste policy. But when you consider what it's costing taxpayers, that may change.

How much? About $7 billion to date and years of wasted time, with the near certainty of another $27 billion to $50 billion on the line, all courtesy of the forced generosity of, well, people like you and your neighbors.

Some history is helpful: In the 1970s and '80s, Congress began the work of determining what to do with radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel--not just from commercial nuclear power reactors, but from defense activities such as powering the Navy's nuclear submarines and cleaning up Cold War and World War II nuclear weapons sites.

Congress directed the Department of Energy to collect and store waste starting no later than 1998. It chose some federal land at Yucca Mountain in Nevada to be the destination, so long as it was deemed safe by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But 1998 came and went with no repository. In entered the federal taxpayer.

Nearly 100 lawsuits later, the Treasury Department has been making annual payments to nuclear power companies to recover the costs of storing and securing nuclear waste in the interim.

It will get worse before it gets better. The DOE projects it will be legally liable for $27 billion more to nuclear power companies. That figure assumes the government will restart the Yucca Mountain repository review process now. Suspecting that won't happen, the nuclear industry estimates taxpayer liability will be closer to $50 billion.

It's not clear when things will get better for the taxpayer. Former Sen. Harry Reid made a career out of trying to eliminate the Yucca Mountain project and found a powerful ally in the Obama administration.

Since then, the Trump administration has routinely requested the funds necessary to follow the law, starting with completing the scientific review of Yucca Mountain. But Congress remains in the deadlock of the Obama years, unable to agree on funds for Yucca Mountain.

For those with a grim sense of humor, Congress and the DOE have offered hundreds of millions in taxpayer-backed tax credits and government loan guarantees for advanced nuclear power plants ... which if built will have no place to dispose of their spent fuel given the current state of the situation.

Congress has little incentive to do anything at all so long as taxpayers are silent. Maybe it's time they spoke up.

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Katie Tubb is a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

Editorial on 11/03/2018

Print Headline: What a (nuclear) waste

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