Total Drek

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

He finally takes a stand and look what happens.

I've been thinking for some time that Kerry needs to take a stand on something. More accurately, he needs to take a stand on a lot of things, thus producing a "platform." It isn't that I don't like Kerry... and it isn't that I do like him either. As I have said previously I couldn't care less who the Democrats run, I'm voting against Bush. My concern, however, is that once you take into account the vast numbers of Americans who either hate Bush with the fiery, burning extremism of jock itch, and the Americans who revere Bush as the bringer-of-tax-cuts and the conqueror-of-Iraq, you're left with the so-called "swing voters" who must somehow be courted by both campaigns. Sure, Bush's "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid," platform has become the very epitome of negativity, but if I were a swing voter I'd have to find it preferrable to the lack of issues apparent in Kerry's current platform.

So, bearing this in mind, you'd think I'd be happy to see Kerry take an actual stand on something. I want to be, I should be, but I'm just not. Specifically I'm referring to an article in yesterday's Washington Post that explains that Kerry has come out in opposition to the Department of Energy's proposed Yucca Mountain Waste Repository. For those who are unfamiliar, the DoE has long advocated a plan that would remove the radiocative waste generated by civilian nuclear reactors, military reactors, and weapons building programs (waste that is currently stored in 131 different sites, nation-wide) to a single well-built, well-protected facility. The site chosed for this project is Yucca mountain in Nevada, approximately 90 miles north of the city of Las Vegas.

Why does the DoE want to do this? Well, for a lot of reasons. Probably the simplest two, however, are safety and security. Right now most waste is stored in ponds and dumps near the point where it was first created. This is fine, as far as it goes, but most of these sites are aging and sited over water tables, near rivers, or otherwise have access to critical resources. Some of the sites are in areas that are geologically active, which creates a risk that material may escape from containment following an earthquake or other natural disaster. As this material remains radioactive and potentially lethal for up to thousands of years, we are facing not the possibility, but the effective certainty that there will be an eventual leak. The second major concern is security. While most of this material cannot itself be used to produce a nuclear, or thermonuclear, weapon it could be used to produce a dirty bomb. In this scenario terrorists could acquire this lethal material and then disperse it in a populated area, inflicting significant damage in both human and economic terms. Obviously, it is necessary to do something to ensure the safe disposal of this material.

The DoE chose the Yucca mountain site for a variety of reasons. The three most significant reasons, however, are its remote location, its geological stability, and its relative economy. First, Yucca mountain is in one of the less populated states of the Union... essentially it's in the middle of a bloody desert and is 90 miles from the nearest densely-populated area. This provides a significant safety factor for the material itself in the event of an accident. Secondly, the Yucca site is not geologically active. In fact, government geologists contend that the site is so stable we can expect the repository to remain secure for thousands of years- long enough for much of the material to decay to harmlessness. Finally, the area in question is otherwise unused federal land, thus saving taxpayers money.

By relocating the waste to a centralized location like Yucca mountain the DoE contends that the material will be more protected from natural disasters and accidents, that it will be possible to guard it more thoroughly against theft, and that it will be less damaging in the event of an accident.

All is not well with this project, however, as increasing opposition has risen to it. This opposition, centered in Nevada, was chronicled in a recent episode of 60 Minutes. In short, the opposition argues that the potential environmental risks are greater than the DoE is indicating, that the process of transporting the material on railways (many of which go through densely populated areas, like Chicago) presents unacceptable risks to citizens, and that the proximity of the city of Las Vegas creates the potential for massive loss of life in the event that the facility fails.

The opposition has become quite heated, as is frequently the case when it comes to nuclear issues. Multi-part articles have been written on the matter, petitions have been created and signed, and we have even seen popular singers oppose the project. We can safely expect the citizens of Nevada, and others, to continue figting this plan for some time to come.

So am I a proponent of the Yucca site? Nah. Not exactly. I don't have any particular commitment to Yucca, it's just that nobody has ever been able to give me a satisfactory answer to the simple question, "What the hell else do we do with the waste?" It exists, it's going to continue to exist, and we have to deal with it. Certainly a release from Yucca mountain has the potential to damage the environment and cause loss of life, but the risks are substantially larger where the material is now. I don't have it in for Nevada (although, I have to admit, that the Las Vegas airport is essentially indistinguishable from the seventh circle of hell) but something has to be done. Or, as the Post puts it:

Outside of the state [Nevada], the larger issue of what to do with the nation's highly radioactive nuclear waste from fuel rods and other sources has vexed federal policymakers for more than two decades. Most lawmakers want a single site to store tens of thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste deep below the earth's surface, where it will never contaminate land or water. But nobody wants nuclear material buried in their back yard, and nobody can give a guarantee that it will not eventually seep into the groundwater or rise to the surface many years down the road. Bush and supporters of the Yucca plan say studies prove its a safe and wise idea.

In short, this is a classic case of a NIMBY movement. What's even better is the Post's comment, "...nobody can give a guarantee that it will not eventually seep into the groundwater or rise to the surface many years down the road." I suppose this is meant to mean that no guarantees have been given, but it's also literally true the way it's written. The Yucca site was intended to house the material for 10,000 years, which is an amazingly long time. To give a little perspective, 10,000 years ago the human race was just domesticating the goat, sheep and pig, had just developed agriculture in Mesopotamia, had just invented the bow and arrow, and was just beginning to develop pottery in Japan. So, considering that the entirety of recorded human history just barely extends more than 10,000 years it's quite the demand that the DoE prove beyond any doubt that the Yucca site will endure in perfect working order for that same length of time. Never mind that proving a negative like "Accidents will not happen" is logically impossible.

Does Nevada have a point about the risks? Sure. But so does everyone else who doesn't want a prison or a landfill in their backyard. Problem is, we still gotta put them somewhere. Is Nevada getting pasted on this one because it is electorally weak? Sure. But that's the whole point of putting this damned thing in Nevada- there aren't that many people there. I honestly don't know if Yucca is a good idea or not, but given the seriousness of the problem something like it is clearly called for.

So, when I find out that Kerry has come out against Yucca mountain, I can't help but feel disappointed. More science needs to be done, more exploration needs to be done, and clearly there's room for further debate, but sometimes we have to make concessions for the greater public good. Maybe it isn't time yet to make a decision, and by all means Nevada should get to speak its piece, but a decision against Yucca is entirely premature. Kerry would have been wiser (and you have no idea how much it pains me to say this) to have taken the stand that Bush did in the last election- that support for Yucca would be contingent on scientific evidence that the site was safer than viable alternatives. Instead we have an election-year decision that ignores science, and places an even greater number of people in a larger number of states in danger, all to secure Nevada's electoral votes for John Kerry. I guess Bush isn't the only guy in this race who is willing to risk American lives for a few votes. That isn't the mark of a great statesman, John, it's the mark of a two-bit hack politician. I'm very disappointed in you.

Even if I'm still going to vote for your sorry ass.


Blogger Brayden said...

I think you're giving Kerry less credit than he deserves (although you may be right about the Yucca thing). He does have a platform - go to his website to check out his detailed positions on health care and taxes. The problem is that the media talks a lot less about Kerry's substantive positions than they do about his statements about Bush.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Actually, I base my statements on the ads the Kerry campaign has been running. So far, I've really only seen ads in favor of security and opposing terrorism... which is a no-brainer. If we saw a candidate who SUPPORTED terrorism... now that would be a platform position worth taking note of. I'm sure Kerry does have a platform, but they really need to start talking about it.

You're right though, the website does list a number of positions, and I stand corrected on that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004 10:25:00 AM  

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