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Kerry pledges to axe Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste dump

Nature volume 430, page 820 (19 August 2004) | Download Citation

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Troubled repository embroiled in US election race

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Plans for a multimillion-dollar nuclear-waste dump, already shaken by a string of budgetary and legal setbacks, have taken a further knock. The Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry pledged last week to block the scheme if he is elected.

Debate over the Yucca Mountain repository has injected some science into the presidential race, as both candidates campaign heavily for the swing state of Nevada, home to the site. Advocates of nuclear power hope to make Yucca Mountain the nation's primary nuclear dump, but opposition from the state government and scientific questions about the site have delayed the project (see Nature 412, 850–852; 2001).

On 10 August, Kerry used scientific studies to claim the plan was flawed, including one saying that corrosion could destroy the metal waste-storage canisters. “I can sum up my stance on Yucca Mountain in four words,” Kerry told supporters in Nevada. “Not on my watch.”

His attack was rebuffed by President George W. Bush, who two days later accused Kerry of “trying to turn Yucca Mountain into a political poker chip”. Kerry may also be out of step with the scientific evidence. According to a 28 July letter from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, the government agency that raised the corrosion concern, new data show that corrosion is “unlikely”.

The campaign rhetoric comes at a turbulent time for the site. The facility is designed to last 10,000 years, but on 10 July a federal appeal court ruled that it must comply with a 1995 National Academy of Sciences study that raises this to 100,000 years. The decision came as federal officials were rushing to file a licence application for the site with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees nuclear-waste disposal.

Yucca's advocates are also faced with a budgeting miscalculation that led the House of Representatives in June to approve just $130 million of the $880 million requested for the site in the next financial year. Many doubt that the bill, when it is completed, will provide full funding. “The project is caught in a perfect storm right now,” says Bob Loux, director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which opposes the site.

The fate of the site may now depend on the outcome of the presidential election. If Bush wins, he may be able to negotiate a new 2005 budget for the project.

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