‘Yes’ on Yucca

Published July 1, 2002

Manufacturing accounts for roughly one-third of America’s demand for electricity. As a small manufacturer who employs 200 men and women near St. Louis, I understand how important a reliable and affordable flow of power is to our economy—especially as we work our way out of recession.

I’m not a politician, but I also understand some of the political forces that have sought to delay the establishment of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Importance of nuclear energy

Many people simply do not appreciate the critical role nuclear power has in providing electricity for the economy. A full 20 percent of America’s current electricity supply is generated by nuclear power plants. Here in Missouri, 13 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear power. It is both an extremely efficient power source and one that emits no greenhouse gasses.

With its use of nuclear energy last year, Missouri avoided approximately 54,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 22,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 2.31 million tons of carbon emissions.

Though some may wish to deny it, the fact is that, for the foreseeable future, nuclear power will remain a vital part of any comprehensive domestic energy policy. We have all learned in recent months that allowing ourselves to be overly reliant on imported energy can pose a serious threat to our national and economic security. And electricity consumers are already paying twice to manage used nuclear fuel, once for the federal program and again for their utility companies to build temporary storage facilities at plant sites scattered throughout the country.

As long as we generate electricity with nuclear power, we will create nuclear spent fuel and other waste. And that waste must be stored safely and securely. Ultimately, we’ve got to ask ourselves whether our nuclear waste will be safer in one impregnable, Fort Knox-like facility or in more than 130 lesser facilities scattered across the country, as is now the case.

Time to proceed with Yucca Mountain site

Underground nuclear waste storage has been studied for more than 20 years. While there are still specific questions that need to be answered about Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a proposed site for such storage, manufacturers agree with President George W. Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham that those questions will be dealt with during the licensing process … which should begin now.

The House of Representatives listened to the concerns of Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R), who had exercised his right to veto the President’s selection of the Yucca Mountain site. But it then voted overwhelmingly, in bipartisan fashion, to override the governor’s veto, allowing the thoughtful approval process to move ahead. The Senate must now follow suit if further, needless delay is to be avoided.

The issues have been studied from every conceivable angle by the agencies with expertise and responsibility for making such complicated recommendations. They say the science is clear: Yucca Mountain is safe, secure and suitable. And the licensing process that will play out over several years will afford the experts ample opportunity to resolve minor problems that may persist. So what are we waiting for?

Manufacturers and every business and household in America benefit when energy bills are manageable. Just as family budgeters sitting around the kitchen table rarely plan to buy a new car or washer-dryer if they know their electricity bill may double or triple by year’s end, business planners are not likely to invest in new equipment and technologies, diversified product lines, worker training, or job creation when faced with unpredictable energy costs. If we choose to jeopardize the continued reliability of such a significant element of our energy supply, we will inevitably jeopardize economic growth and job creation.

Knowing that, President Bush and Secretary Abraham have made a sound decision on Yucca Mountain. The nation’s manufacturers stand behind them and urge the Senate to do so as well. Further delay on Yucca Mountain will only complicate our efforts to craft a comprehensive energy policy and unnecessarily threaten our economic well-being.

Don Wainwright is both chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers and chairman and CEO of Wainwright Industries Inc. near St. Louis, employing 200 men and women who specialize in custom metal components predominantly for the transportation and aerospace industries.