In a Senate floor statement, U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah withdrew his support for building a nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
Bennett said that when he arrived in the Senate in 1993, “I said, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a single repository for nuclear waste, the most logical place for that is Yucca Mountain,’ and I voted in favor of Yucca Mountain. Looking back on it, the key word in that sentence is the word ‘if.’ … It is now clear that we are not going to have a single repository for nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain has been challenged on scientific grounds. Yucca Mountain has been challenged in the court on legal grounds. And as we look at the present state of our need for energy, Yucca Mountain will be challenged on practical grounds because it is very clear that we are going to need more, not less, nuclear power. …
“[W]e need to start thinking about new strategies and new places to deal with this. I want to make it very clear that I am not opposed to nuclear power; indeed I am a strong supporter of nuclear power. … However much the idea of a single repository may have made sense decades ago, it’s now clear that it does not make sense, and we need to move in some future direction. … And to those who had the vision long ago, who have earned the right to say to the rest of us, ‘I told you so,’ I say I will be happy to join with you, too, in seeing how we can think this thing through and get the best solution for our nation and all of those who live here.”
Bennett’s announcement came in the wake of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of a waste dump on tribal land in Utah. Some observers predicted after that approval that Utah congressmembers would withdraw their support for the Yucca dump to make common cause with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic floor leader (“Saints oppose waste,” RN&R, Sept. 22).
Bennett’s announcement drew editorial support in Utah, which put pressure on Utah’s other senator.
The Deseret News commented, “Like Bennett, we’ve had a change of heart. … [S]torage of nuclear waste anywhere in the western United States is a flawed solution. … Sen. Orrin Hatch has not retreated from his support of Yucca Mountain, despite the urging of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and others. Utah needs a united front to fight this threat.”
KSL Radio editorialized, “Whether for genuine scientific reasons or political reality, [Bennett] has joined the chorus of Utah and Nevada political leaders who realize it is best to keep the nation’s nuclear waste where it is right now, until a coherent energy policy is formulated to deal with the stuff. … Now is time for Sen. Orrin Hatch to see the light, as well. It is time he join Sen. Bennett and their colleagues from Nevada in aggressively opposing Yucca Mountain, along with Skull Valley. And it is time they work together to convince Congress and the administration to get busy and find a realistic long-term solution to the nation’s nuclear waste conundrum.”
The St. George Spectrum, located in an area hard hit by cancers and leukemias after Nevada nuclear weapons testing Nevada in the 1950s and ‘60s, observed, “Many years ago, Southern Utah found out that the government’s assurances about fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada couldn’t be trusted. Just days ago, Utah’s senators found out that promises by the Bush administration to keep nuclear waste out of the Beehive State couldn’t be relied upon, either. We thank Sen. Bennett for speaking out against the plan last week.
“We thank Sen. Hatch for beginning the process of using legislation to keep the nuclear waste out of Utah. But it shouldn’t have come to this. In 2002, Bennett and Hatch voted in favor of sending nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, Nev., in exchange for a promise by the Bush administration that nuclear waste would not be sent to Skull Valley Goshute tribal lands, located just 50 miles from Salt Lake City. … It was never a good idea to ship nuclear waste to either Skull Valley or Yucca Mountain for storage, but Hatch and Bennett were willing to accept one if it meant the other got crossed off the list. However, the deal between the senators and the Bush administration broke down Sept. 9 when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-1 to allow nuclear waste to be stored at Skull Valley. … Sen. Bennett admitted his mistake on the floor of the Senate and vowed that he would join with Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign to try to keep nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain. Bennett also put forward the sensible solution that nuclear waste should be kept where it is produced so that it can be reprocessed. Hatch hasn’t joined Reid’s camp yet, but he is pushing for legislation to keep nuclear waste out of Utah.”