The Bush administration hears what it wants to hear, even when the issue is one of the most serious facing the country today: radioactive nuclear waste.
In 1987, Congress created the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and told it to evaluate the Department of Energys research on Yucca Mountain, a proposed nuclear-waste repository in Nevada. For 15 years, the independent board scrutinized the departments scientific and technical data, and on January 24, 2002, it sent its findings in a letter to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. The board was highly critical of the DOEs estimates of how well Yucca Mountain would perform in isolating and containing radioactive waste.
"When the DOEs technical and scientific work is taken as a whole, the Boards view is that the technical basis for the DOEs repository performance estimates is weak to moderate at this time," the letter stated. "Consequently, although at this point no individual technical or scientific factors have been identified that would automatically disqualify the Yucca Mountain site, the Board has limited confidence in current performance estimates generated by [the DOE]."
Later that same day, a DOE press release stated: "The Department welcomes the Boards statement that no individual technical or scientific factor has been identified that would automatically eliminate Yucca Mountain from consideration."
Three weeks later, Abraham sent a letter to President Bush recommending the Yucca Mountain site. "I have considered whether sound science supports the determination that the Yucca Mountain site is scientifically and technically suitable for the development of a repository," he said. "I am convinced that it does."
Though the dangers of plutonium persist for thousands of years, it took the White House less than a day to react. "The presidents decision to recommend Yucca Mountain is based on sound science," Bushs press secretary announced. "It follows decades of scientific study and a determination by the secretary of energy that the site can be safely used to store these materials."
In April, Nevada governor Kenny Guinn exercised his right to veto President Bushs endorsement of Yucca Mountain as the place to bury 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Congress is now deciding whether to override that veto.