In a month of Congressional efforts to prop-up the stalling US job market, Nevada’s elected officials are fighting to make conditions worse in their state.

Steve Tetreault and Keith Rogers report in the Pahrump Valley Times that the Department of Energy has cut 500 of 600 workers from Yucca Mountain Project contractor USA Repository Services. Additionally, Sandia National Laboratories will soon reduce their staff working on the project.

How is it possible that Senator Harry Reid can be taken seriously on the issue of job creation across the country when he supports these layoffs in his own state? And how can anything the U.S. government says regarding nuclear energy be taken seriously when it can not fulfill its basic legal obligation as mandated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste.

There are two issues here. First regarding Harry Reid–

The reality is that the people of Nevada elected Senator Reid and they can un-elect him if they choose. The larger problem is that his obstructionism not only denies Nevadans good paying jobs but is also one of the obstacles standing in the way of a nuclear power rebirth in the nation. Nuclear energy can not only help meet the nation’s economic, environmental and energy requirements but is a jobs creator. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute the industry has already created 15,000 jobs in recent years and that is before even one plant has bee built. Then there is the issue of the U.S. government’s support for nuclear power—

Many have hinged the future prospects of nuclear power on a series of government programs. This is just how it has always been done. But the success of this model is debatable. On one hand it did give us 104 safe, reliable reactors that today provide 20% of the nation’s electricity. On the other hand, that dependence led to an industry that was not sustainable as economic conditions shifted and anti-nuclear sentiment spread throughout public institutions in the 1970s.

There were critical national security reasons that perhaps justified this close public-private partnership. The application of nuclear science was critical to winning the Cold War and America’s leaders knew that a robust private-sector nuclear industry was critical to its technological dominance. One of many problems with a government-supported industry, however, is that it is not sustainable once the crutch is removed. That is what happened with America’s dominant nuclear industry.

The driving force behind the potential nuclear rebirth in the U.S. today is the need for clean, affordable, and abundant energy. Under these circumstances, building a new nuclear industry dependent on government acquiescence is not the way to go. Instead, the new nuclear industry should be built on strong market fundamentals.

And the government’s inability to fulfill its nuclear waste obligations and Harry Reid’s opposition to the Yucca Mountain repository tell us exactly why. Despite the preponderance of scientific and technical data that lead to the conclusion that nuclear power is safe, government bureaucrats continue to hold nuclear energy hostage to perceptions that nuclear energy is not safe. This is diminishing, but it still exists in key areas.

It is not always as overt as is the case with Yucca. For example, this mentality leads to over regulation, which leads to higher costs, which leads to the need for loan guarantees, which leads to more government dependence. You get the drift…

But back to Yucca…

The facility was to be operational by 1998 – it’s running behind schedule, even by government standards. In fact, the prospects for completing the project are so grim that NARUC passed a resolution this week stating the only aspect of the NWPA that was on schedule is the collection of fees from nuclear utilities.

Senator Reid’s colleague in the House, Representative Shelley Berkley, made her voice known on the issue as well. She criticized a Nevada supporter of the Yucca project who recently opened a website, Yucca Matters, stating that they are “entitled to their opinions, but they are not free to spread false claims,” regarding the safety of waste disposal at Yucca Mountain.

Yucca Matters presents information consistent with science about the safety of the site and with experience from across the globe on the safety record of nuclear waste transportation. This issue is not scientific or technical – it is 100% political. And if it is scientific or technical, let’s have the scientists at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) make that call, not the politicians. It’s like Senator Reid or Representative telling a mechanic how to fix a car.

The reality is that some of the byproducts of nuclear fission will last a long time. Even if the waste on site is recycled or sits for millions of years, the U.S. needs a place where it can be safely stored. If the NRC determines Yucca to be fit, then we have a winner.