SAN ONOFRE, Calif. – After 30 years, five presidents and $13 billion dollars, the Obama administration is pulling the plug on Yucca Mountain, the federal government's proposed storage facility for America's nuclear waste.
For a candidate who said he wanted to get politics out of science, critics find the president's decision hypocritical and shortsighted, at a time when nuclear energy is making a comeback.
"They have no solution to the problem. They've taken tens of billions of dollars from rate-payers and now they are talking about scraping the whole thing," said Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.
For 2010, the administration dramatically reduced Yucca Mountain's budget, just enough, a spokesperson said, to answer questions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told Congress earlier this year that Yucca Mountain is "not an option," and a spokesperson for the Nevada Facility told Fox News that the site is closed. The number of employees is down from a high of 4,000 to 50, according to a lawyer familiar with the repository.
The decision was not un-expected. President Obama campaigned hard in Nevada and promised voters there in January 2008 "I am against yucca. I have repeatedly said I am against Yucca."
But what made for good campaign politics in Nevada leaves the U.S. with nowhere to store a growing stockpile of radioactive waste. Roughly 70,000 tons of waste sits in temporary pools and dry storage canisters in 100 reactor sites around the U.S. -- each one requiring an army of guards and millions in electronic surveillance.
The federal government agreed in 1982 to build a permanent storage site for radioactive waste and signed contracts to begin accepting it by 1998. Failure to meet that obligation has already cost the government $565 million in settlements and the Department of Energy estimates it will cost another $11 billion over the next decade in court costs and judgments.
"For every summary judgment, for every litigation, that they lose, for every settlement they have to pay, that is money coming out of the taxpayers pocket," Paige told Fox News.
Many in Congress are also angry with Obama's decision to close Yucca Mountain. "Many a utility facility across the country is going to have to close down if we don't get a handle on it because waste is piling up in those communities with reactors," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, (R-Calif). Lawmakers like Lewis and Sen. John McCain say with no long term repository for America's nuclear waste, the re-licensing of existing plants and construction of new ones is in jeopardy, just as the nation reconsiders nuclear energy as a clean and dependable source of electricity.
In the meantime, the nation's utilities have asked the federal government to suspend the nuclear waste disposal tax -- now running about $750 million a year -- and may want a refund for the money already spent on the now failed yucca facility. So far, officials representing the department of energy have said no.