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Harry Reid, Hanford and the triumph of science

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on June 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
June 4, 2010 5:52 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

An expert scientific commission to visit Hanford next month has a fascinating scientific mandate from President Obama: Look everywhere in America for the best place to bury radioactive reactor wastes.

Everywhere, that is, except Nevada. Nevada, the state where the federal government has spent $10.5 billion developing Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository. The dry-as-talcum-powder state identified 20-plus years ago as the best place in America to bury radioactive waste.

We know this is a highly scientific mission because Obama has assured the nation that – unlike George W. Bush – he would never, ever, so much as think about letting scientific decisions be corrupted by political considerations.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will visit Hanford because, staff director John Kotek said, it wants to “hear first hand how diverse state and local constituencies are impacted directly by hosting a large nuclear facility.”

That’s a curious way to frame the issue. Washingtonians or Tri-Citians aren’t so much concerned about a “facility” as they are about 53 million gallons of intensely radioactive wastes in holding tanks an easy hike away from the Columbia River – plus another million gallons that have already leaked into the ground.

It so happens that those 53 million gallons were destined for permanent burial – far from rivers and cities – at the Yucca Mountain repository, which suddenly became scientifically unsuitable after Obama took office. A $12.3 billion Hanford plant – roughly half complete – is engineered to package the waste in glass cylinders designed for the unique specifications of the Nevada repository.

Decades of research done? Billions upon billions spent? As Gilda Radner would say, “Never mind.”

Given the Obama administration’s commitment to science, we can assume the Blue Ribbon Commission’s search parameters – basically, “anywhere but Nevada” – come from the cutting edge of research on nuclear waste isolation.

You know, the science that gave us the Swing State Hypothesis, the Electoral College Constant, the Harry Reid Effect, the Senate Majority Theory and the First Law of Nevada Politics. (The latter is summarized as, “Not in my backyard.” Its corollary: “Except for casinos, prostitution and horned toads.)

This frontier of human inquiry promises the miraculous. By scientifically disqualifying America’s only feasible underground repository, it would turn Hanford’s radioactive ponds into permanent features of Washington’s natural setting.

Thank goodness for this administration’s commitment to science untainted by tawdry politics.

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