The Obama administration talks a good game on global warming and the use of nuclear energy, which has the advantage of not producing greenhouse gases. But when it comes to providing the nuclear industry with a site for storing nuclear waste, the administration's policy is to do nothing -- and never mind what the law says.
Last Tuesday, a federal court served notice that doing nothing on the Yucca Mountain repository site in Nevada has to stop. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make up its mind on the licensing application for developing Yucca Mountain. The commission, the court said, "continued to violate the law" by not deciding.
Yucca Mountain was settled on years ago as the sole candidate for a nuclear repository site and the Bush administration submitted the licensing application in June 2008. Under the terms of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had three years to make up its mind.
The merits of the site need to be officially weighed, but radioactive politics has become a much greater problem than the technical arguments.
When he first ran for president, Barack Obama rightly saw the value of one site in the nation to store safely all the material piling up at nuclear plants around the country. Then as president he cynically changed his mind. Worse yet, he appointed Gregory Jaczko, a former staffer of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as NRC chairman. True to his old boss's opposition, Mr. Jaczko in 2010 told commission staff to stop working on the application.
It is tempting to think that government's inability to achieve anything these days is the monopoly of Tea Party Republicans, but Yucca Mountain is a reminder that Democrats can play that game, too. Billions of taxpayer dollars have gone toward this project, it has been studied to death and now more than 80,000 pounds of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste sit at 80 sites in 35 states. Political dysfunction, thy name is Yucca.
Mr. Obama needs to use this kick in the pants from the court to get moving on the Yucca application so that it can be fairly decided, yea or nay, not consigned to perpetual -- and illegal -- bureaucratic limbo.