Suddenly the Democratic presidential candidates in the US are displaying a remarkable environmental consciousness. The Democratic aspirants are vigorously denouncing the plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada.
Well, they are not trying to emulate Al Gore. Simply that will lead off voting in January for the Democratic and Republican nominations.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began studying Yucca Mountain, Nevada, in 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for the nation's first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Currently stored at 126 sites around the nation, these materials are a result of nuclear power generation and national defense programs.
On July 23, 2002, President Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, allowing the DOE to take the next step in establishing a safe repository in which to store our nation's nuclear waste. The Department of Energy is currently in the process of preparing an application to obtain the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to proceed with construction of the repository.
The government is arguing that the waste, safely contained in sturdy casks, would remain isolated from the outside environment deep within the natural rock floors or walls of a repository. In recommending disposal within the Earth, scientists rely upon data from the past, the present, and more than 40 years of research into nuclear waste disposal methods, it says.
Ever since Yucca Mountain was proposed as the nation's central repository for nuclear waste, federal scientists have maintained that little or no water could penetrate 800 feet into the site where more than 150 million pounds of radioactive nuclear waste is slated for storage.
But opponents of developing Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste storage ? including environmentalists and most Nevada residents??contend that the ridge is situated in an area with an earthquake record and hence water could seep into the mountain, corrode the metal waste storage canisters, and contaminate the water supply on which nearby communities, such as Las Vegas 90 miles away, depend.
Two years ago the Energy Department conceded that federal scientists might have misrepresented findings regarding the potential for water to seep into and jeopardize storage facilities at the controversial site.
Criminal charges, for falsifying data, were considered by federal prosecutors, but never really materialized.
Few local issues are as unpopular with Nevadans as the waste dump.
Not surprising then that Democrats should try to show off their environmental concerns by opposing the dump plans, never mind their own equivocations in the past.
Hillary Clinton has promised to cut funding for the project if elected president. Thus the pressure piles on the aspirants.
John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential says faulty science was used to support the Yucca Mountain project, and he doesn't believe nuclear energy is a safe energy source.
Richardson, the New Mexico governor, who has voted in favor of the 1987 measure that authorized the federal government to explore the possibility of making the Yucca Mountain the sole dump site is also pitching into the fray.
He now says he's always opposed the project, which he believes would be unsafe. "Nevada should say no, I've always said no," Richardson told reporters during an early campaign stop in the state. And thereby hangs a tale.
If they are all paying more attention than usual to the concerns of Nevada, which barely mattered in 2000, it's because the state's concerns are being magnified by the special place it now occupies on the Democratic Party's 2008 primary calendar.It used to be that about 14 states voted before Nevada in the primaries. This time, its Jan. 19 caucus -- right after Iowa's -- makes it the No. 2 stop on the road to nomination.
Harry Reid, the party's Senate Majority Leader and the responsible party for the early caucus date has called Bush a liar over Yucca long before he opposed him on Iraq. "I have spent 20 years fighting the absurd idea that massive quantities of deadly nuclear waste can be transported across thousands of miles," Reid has said.
Thus the pressure piles on the aspirants. Still there is no knowing whether they would not change tack after the polls, it is felt.
Hillary Clinton has already created suspicion because she has refused to rule out expansion of nuclear power as a solution to the nation's energy woes and has received campaign contributions from the nuclear industry.
Barack Obama, whose home state of Illinois has more nuclear plants than any other, also has received substantial contributions from the industry and wants to leave nuclear power on the table.
John Edwards, when he was a North Carolina senator, voted twice to open the dump and once against it. Bill Richardson once ran the Energy Department, which is building the dump, and voted for it when he was a New Mexico congressman.
Still today Edwards is moving distinctly left of centre and he is willing to oppose nuclear energy per se, but others are coy on that score.
The Republicans are of course more willing than Democrats to increase the nation's share of electricity generated from nuclear power, whether there are viable waste storage options or not.