One of the worst decisions in U.S. energy policy was letting the two major political parties move the Nevada caucuses into the early weeks of the presidential selection process.

So, in addition to having to promise New Hampshire voters that they will be independent and pledging Iowa voters permanent fealty to farm subsidies, anyone who wants to be president has had to express deep opposition to the Yucca Mountain federal nuclear waste dump.

That has provided a roadblock in the development of a nuclear power industry in this country, which even with its shortcomings would generate power that produces less air pollution than fossil fuels, offers more reliability than wind or solar and makes us less dependent on imported oil.

It has also meant that nuclear waste is spread all around the country in containers like the concrete and steel casks at the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscassett. Maine Sen. Susan Collins went before the federal Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future meeting in Wiscasset last week arguing that those sites should close. And she is right.

Maine Yankee operated between 1972 and 1996, when it was closed down in the face of necessary and expensive repairs. Maine’s electric ratepayers are still chipping in $7 million a year to maintain the temporary storage facility, which could be in place for decades waiting for the government to create a central waste storage facility.

It’s time for the federal government to step forward and keep its promises to provide a permanent site for storing nuclear waste. At the least, it should create an interim facility, so that sites like Maine Yankee can move on with their post-nuclear future.

Having a reliable dump for nuclear waste could also spur the growth of the nuclear power industry, which would provide needed balance in our energy portfolio.

The commission’s work will involve politics in addition to science, and the panel should find a site for the waste, preferably in a state that holds its primary well after Super Tuesday.

 


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