Most of the GOP candidates for president say they would not reopen the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, shuttered by an Obama Administration decision last year. That was not good news for many South Carolina Republicans
The Nevada dump was supposed to store nuclear waste currently held in South Carolina, most notably from weapons stockpiled at the Savannah River Site. However, at a GOP debate in Nevada Tuesday, none of the candidates were willing to go on the record as supporting Yucca Mountain.
“I approach it from a states’ rights position,” Texas Congressman Ron Paul said, “What right (do) 49 states have to punish 1 state and say ‘we’re going to put our garbage in your state?'”
Mitt Romney quickly agreed, as did Texas Governor Rick Perry.
It doesn’t hurt that Nevada will be the third state to make its pick for the presidential nomination, behind Iowa and New Hampshire– and ahead of South Carolina. The Yucca Mountain repository is deeply unpopular there, and any candidate is aware of that.
Perry had already stated his position in an interview last week with South Carolina Radio Network. “We need to have a debate and a discussion about where you have a repository,” he said, “I would suggest a number of places in the country that (are) working towards those repositories now. On the Texas and New Mexico line, there is a (low-level) waste disposal facility there.”
The response was disappointing to South Carolina Republicans, especially those from the Aiken area, where much of the reprocessed nuclear waste is stored at the Savannah River Site. State Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) said the candidates were trying to win over Nevada voters. “And for those of us in Aiken County who have been promised that the waste would leave Savannah River Site, the reluctance to take a position… is disappointing.”
Fellow legislator Rep. Bill Taylor was blunter. He said South Carolina ratepayers contributed $1 billion for Yucca Mountain’s construction through higher electric bills over the past 20 years, with the understanding that it would eventually hold the waste kept in the Palmetto State. “It’s there. It’s been built. We have spent billions of dollars to do it,” he said, “It is now the world’s largest wine cellar that’s unopened and unused. There’s no point in going someplace else when it’s right there.”
The Obama Administration’s decision to scuttle Yucca Mountain last year led to heavy criticism from South Carolina Republicans, who accused the president of throwing out 30 years of work for political reasons. A lawsuit by South Carolina, Aiken County, and other states against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still in court.
One candidate who did not commit to a position on Yucca Mountain was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was involved in the search for a nuclear repository during his time in Congress. “I think at some point we have to find a safe method of taking care of nuclear waste,” he said at the Las Vegas debate, “Because this has been caught up in a political fight, we have small units of nuclear waste all over this country in a way that is vastly more dangerous to the United States.”
Gingrich will be at a dinner in Aiken on Friday October 28, where he could face more questions about his position.
Massey disputed that it was a states’ rights issue. “The property that Savannah River Site is located on is property that the United States Department of Energy purchased,” he said, “These are missions that the United States Department of Energy pursued.”
In a statement released this week, Congressman Jeff Duncan said he was also not happy, “to hear that some of the GOP Presidential hopefuls share Senator Harry Reid’s views on Yucca Mountain… I suspect many South Carolina voters, including myself, will expect to hear the presidential candidates’ solution to this problem during their next visit to the Palmetto State.”