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Nuclear waste: Trying to move the mountain

One manifestation of political gridlock that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t blame on Republicans is the failure to build a federal repository for nuclear waste. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was selected as the site in 2002, setting off hysterical opposition from many Nevadans and some environmental groups. Obama repudiated the Yucca Mountain plan in order to placate Nevada voters. It was hardly an act of courage, and Obama has done little to find a new site.

Wisely, state Attorney General Martha Coakley and Senate President Therese Murray sent a letter to Washington last month in support of a bipartisan Senate proposal to end the three-decade impasse on storing radioactive fuel. Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden have joined with Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander in calling for a new agency to restart the process of siting a nuclear-waste repository. The new agency would solicit proposals from communities that would welcome the repository as a source of jobs and investment.

Nationally, the amount of nuclear waste sitting in temporary storage has grown to 70,000 tons, prompting Coakley to join with colleagues from Connecticut, New York, and Vermont to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to come up with fresh ideas for handling the temporary storage problem. Currently, spent rods sit in cooling pools at plants such as Pilgrim in Plymouth, where Murray lives.


“This is not an abstract problem for many people in Massachusetts,” Coakley declared. Nor is it an abstract problem for others around the nation. It no longer should be for Congress or the White House, either.