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Nuclear nonsense in House energy bill

Posted Jul. 16, 2014 / Posted by: Katherine Fuchs

Last week, the House passed the FY15 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, which funds the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons and power programs. In response, the Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement of Administrative Policy suggesting the president would veto the bill if it were presented to him based on a number of provisions including the House bill’s funding for the Mixed Oxide Plutonium Fuel Program, often called MOX, and Yucca Mountain. I applaud the administration’s strong stance against funding both MOX and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. The House is misguided in its efforts to perpetuate both of these boondoggles.

The MOX program aims to use retired warheads to produce plutonium reactor fuel. Unfortunately, in addition to the program being 600 percent over its original budget and 12 years behind schedule, no utility has agreed to use the fuel that it would produce. With no utilities using MOX in their reactors, the whole program is really just a $30 billion plan to move waste from a facility in Texas to another facility in South Carolina while putting the public health and the environment at risk in the process. In short, the MOX program is a piece of pork for which taxpayers have no appetite. The White House ordered the MOX program into cold standby because it knows that the program is a boondoggle and its Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the House spending bill if it continues funding the MOX program was the only responsible course of action.

The House should also abandon its obsession with Yucca Mountain. There’s ample evidence that Yucca Mountain is geologically unsuitable as a long-term nuclear waste repository. Additionally, pushing ahead with the facility flies in the face of democratic ideals, as it’s repeatedly been rejected by the State of Nevada. Sadly, in addition to directing $150 million to restarting the Yucca Mountain Project, the House spending bill also forbids funding for activities that would support closure of the Yucca project. The administration is right to stand up to members in the House who are more concerned with nuclear industry profits than developing scientifically sound methods for securing radioactive waste over the long term.

The House’s Energy & Water spending bill for FY15 is unlikely to ever make it to the president’s desk. The Senate, particularly Majority Leader Harry Reid, won’t abide by many of the House’s provisions. Still, it’s heartening to see the White House issuing such strong condemnation of wasteful nuclear spending in the House’s plan.

Photo of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. Photo credit: High Flyer

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