NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Yucca Mountain: The Safe Future for Nuclear Energy

July 26, 2012

The Obama administration's stance on nuclear energy has been, on the whole, entirely inconsistent. On the one hand, he regularly extols the benefits of relatively clean and efficient nuclear energy in his speeches to the environmental lobby. On the other, he has essentially mortgaged the future of the industry by sidelining the Yucca Mountain facility, where nuclear waste was due to be deposited, says the Institute for Energy Research.

This decision by the Obama administration runs contrary to his repeated advocacy of alternative energy, and ignores the potential contributions of nuclear energy to America's future energy mix.

  • The 19 percent of the electricity generated in the United States by nuclear power plants is comparable to the electricity used in California, Texas and New York combined.
  • Nuclear power accounts for 8.5 percent of our total domestic energy consumption.
  • Further, nuclear plants -- of which there are 104 total in the United States -- produce far less waste than traditional power plants.
  • A 1,000-megawatt nuclear-electric plant, for example, produces about one metric ton of waste per year, versus 1 million tons from a similarly sized coal plant.

The relatively dangerous waste produced by nuclear power plants brought about the need for the Yucca Mountain facility. Energy producers taking advantage of nuclear energy (and therefore requiring a safe and secure place to store their waste) have been forced to pay fees to the government since 1982 for the construction of such a facility.

The Obama administration's subsequent closure of the project was a poor decision in this regard, and should be reversed for three significant reasons.

  • First, Yucca Mountain has already undergone a 30-year-long process of scientific examination and has been accepted by law as the only permanent nuclear waste repository in the United States.
  • Second, the money that has been collected from energy producers since 1982 should rightfully be used for the purpose for which it was intended; that is, the government should deliver on its promise to create a safe repository.
  • Third, the government's failure to offer a viable repository location has limited the growth of the industry and stalled America's progression toward a reliable and diverse energy mix.

Source: "Yucca Mountain: The Safe Future for Nuclear Energy," Institute for Energy Research, June 19, 2012.

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