Best Interests of America
Yucca Mountain is a critical fork in the road for America. The nuclear waste repository is a necessary cornerstone of our hopes for energy self sufficiency, securing the availability of 21% of our energy production now derived from nuclear reactors. This non-polluting energy can allow us to continue development of our natural resources without the environmental burdens traditionally associated with fossil fuels.
Arrayed against Yucca Mountain and nuclear energy are forces whose philosophy it is to politicize every aspect of our technology and environment. Unfortunately, the alternative worldview they offer is one of untested and uneconomic solar technologies that are unlikely to survive without massive federal subsidy. Solar utopianism is very different from solar realism which views energy from the sun as a useful alternative energy option but not an end in itself. Nuclear energy in parallel with solar energy and even hydrocarbons offers America options while solar utopianism offers the paralysis of our society and possibly the destruction of the very environment we wish to preserve.
What Yucca Mountain is also about is whether we will base our technological progress on hard science, or on psychological fancy and popular myths about risks. If we choose the latter course, allowing polls interpreted by sociologists to take the place of sound engineering in our decision making process, we will have to admit the scaly monsters that hid beneath our beds and plagued our childhoods are indeed real. There is a better course.
Humans depend on energy (literally, the ability to do work) to survive and prosper. Just as surely, the environment also depends on our access to abundant energy because humans can avoid resource depletion and destruction of the ecology through energy substitution. For example, hydrogen has great promise as a fuel because of its low air pollution (it burns to form water and limited NOx). Instead of using depletable oil reserves, hydrogen might be substituted as a fuel in many operations, but only if there is a primary energy source to generate the hydrogen. With abundant energy, we can become a hydrogen economy (or some other appropriate mix) while keeping the cars, air-conditioning, airplanes and telecommunications that have created modern civilization. Without abundant energy sources, conservation becomes our only option, an option that dangerously limits our future.
Finding a dependable, cheap and abundant energy source is not just America's problem, it is the major problem facing Third World and First World countries alike. Places like India, the Middle East, China, Pakistan and other Third World countries cannot frivolously reject nuclear energy because of irrational fears generated by environmental lawyer/activists. Forcing the Third World to depend on fossil fuels and strip their rain forests for the fuel to bring them into the modern era is not a rational economic or environmental solution.
The greatest danger America faces may now be economic rather than from nuclear weapons. Our major economic competitors, Japan and Western Europe, have already opted for nuclear energy as part of their energy solution. Forcing America to compete with these economies without nuclear energy is no solution. Conseqently, what is at stake at Yucca Mountain is both America's economic and environmental future. We offer the following suggestions for America:
DEPOLITICIZATION OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY
The central lesson of Yucca Mountain is that America cannot allow its technology to be politicized. Scientific truth does exist; the question of whether 2 + 2 = 4 is not a political question subject to popular polls.
Unfortunately, our nation is now in the midst of a philosophical battle over who controls our science and technology. The new trend appears to be to socialize and therefore politicize our nation's scientific decisions. In our opinion, however, perceived risks are not a sufficient basis on which to judge energy policy or technology in general. Risk analysis, based on scientific data and expert technical judgement is the only approach to evaluating complex technologies which is self-correcting and avoids paralysis. Political processes, once introduced into scientific investigations, by their very nature replace truth with perceived truths whose progressive accumulation over time can only be swept away at great expense. Some will claim that science operates in a "millieu" of competing interests, but the fact is that at the end of the day, 2 + 2 really does equal 4.
After analysis, it becomes clear that the muddying of the technology debate, in nuclear issues as well as other sciences (genetic engineering, environmental remediation, etc.) is a direct result of what we will call the "stakeholder" problem.
At Yucca Mountain, the DOE has attempted to involve "the people" in some of the decision making processes regarding characterization of the repository through "stakeholder" meetings. While this is theoretically a commendable effort because of its egalitarian motivations, we've seen in the course of this book that such efforts can lead paradoxically to counterproductive and unintended consequences.
According to Dr. Daniel Dreyfus, present director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste management, the word "stakeholder" is defined to include anyone and everyone interested in Yucca Mountain. Unfortunately, this leads to an infinite chain of stakeholders whose stake in the outcome is successively more tenuous. In fact, not everyone in America is at equal risk from the transport and disposal of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, so while everyone may be a Yucca Mountain stakeholder in a loose sense, there is certainly a hierarchy of stakeholders. Indian tribes, the state of Nevada, nuclear ratepayers, the nuclear industry, etc., all hold distinct positions within the stakeholder hierarchy as defined by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. At the end of the stakeholder chain are the national environmental public interest groups, who while well meaning have no natural legal "standing" in the debate (either through exposure to risk or monetary involvement). Yet, national environmental activists have exercised near veto power over the development of nuclear reactors and the Yucca Mountain repository through their manipulation of the stakeholder input process.
In the future, Congress must be ready to make ground rules defining who has standing in technological decision making process and what level of influence this standing represents. Indeed, the 1992 Energy Bill addressed many of these questions despite the opposition of environmentalists and the attempted filibuster by Senator Bryan and this may lead to a resurgence in the construction of nuclear reactors freed from entangling red tape. America's greatness is clearly based on its utilitarian traditions, not on Rawlsian egalitarianism. Recognizing that allowing populist movements to veto technological projects may be non-elitist, egalitarian and fair, but not particularly wise, is thus crucial to bringing sanity back to the development of Yucca Mountain and technology in general.
Present legislative efforts to make the Environmental Protection Agency subject to utilitarian cost/benefit analysis is an encouraging move towards making a hierarchy of stakeholders based on costs (risks) and benefits (monetary gain and property rights). A similar clarifying of the stakeholder hierarchy surrounding Yucca Mountain is also called for.
FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS: AMENDING THE NUCLEAR WASTE POLICY ACT
Nevada must be recognized as a primary Yucca Mountain stakeholder with substantial rights as a risk taker, property owner and because of the potential impact on the local gaming industry. However, a national cost/benefit analysis does not suggest the state should be given ultimate veto power over the repository. Normally, this would lead to a bargaining process in which state political leaders would negotiate to determine appropriate compensation to alleviate any inequities. Since this does not seem possible given the present political climate, it appears certain that when the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is revisited in 1995, the state's political establishment will be sidestepped in favor of trying to reach a wise, if not fair, solution.
Given the probability that a solution will need to be manufactured without Nevada political input, two issues which will need to be addressed are compensation to the state of Nevada and restructuring of the state's oversight duties. Regarding compensation, it may be appropriate to return to Sen. Bennett Johnston's rejected 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which proposed levels in the area of $100 million per year. The Nevada Nuclear Waste Study Committee, a citizen's group, has also been working with an Advisory Board of prominent citizens to develop a benefits structure that is rational and meets Nevada's economic needs. The Nevada legislature will likely play the role of negotiator in this process, rather than the Governor's office or the state's national legislative delegation.
Also important in the amending of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1995 will be to make sure the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office becomes a constructive rather than destructive element in the repository study. Rather than strangling necessary state oversight, some simple options may prevent the runaway hysteria that NWPO has caused:
1) Enforcement and upgrading of the laws on competitive bidding (10-CFR 600-436) . Also require Requests For Proposals on all substantial contracts.
2) Require regular full audits of the Nuclear waste Project Office.
3) Stiffen the professional competency requirements for agency staff to prevent them from becoming political footballs.
4) Enforce the utilization of local expertise to provide local feedback.
Finally, we would like to leave you with the thought that America must not search out the fair solutions to its technical problems, but the wise solutions. There is no question that Yucca Mountain is not fair to Nevada. However, neither would it be fair to allow nuclear spent fuel to remain above ground at hundreds of sites around the continent for future generations to deal with, simply because we do not have the courage to choose truth over politics.
To the best of my ability, I have provided over the past pages the background behind the philosophies driving the debate over Yucca Mountain and nuclear energy. Since most of the readers of this book will be intimately involved in the siting process, it is now up to you to use this information, one way or the other, to forward the process of responsibly disposing of this nation's nuclear waste.ÿ