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Nuclear Uncertainty

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Donald TrumpWhat effect will a Trump Administration have on this country’s nuclear power, waste, and weapons policies?

“Prospects for a rational approach are not bright.” That’s the conclusion of Dan Yurman, who worked at the Idaho National Laboratory for 20 years and now writes a widely read pro-nuclear blog, Neutron Bytes.

Nuclear Power

Donald Trump has nominated Rick Perry, the governor of Texas for 15 years, to be Secretary of Energy. Texas is home to Pantex, where nuclear weapons are put together and taken apart, and Waste Control Specialists (WCS), a nuclear waste dump Mr. Perry helped expand. But neither he nor members of the Trump transition team have seemed particularly aware that DOE does not mean just oil and gas. In fact, 68 percent of the DOE budget is for nuclear weapons, nuclear contamination cleanup, and nuclear power.

There have been some signs that members of the Trump team are worried about nuclear power plants closing prematurely. Mr. Trump has said he supports nuclear power, but his climate change denial undercuts the main argument nuclear proponents have been making to try to save the industry: Nuclear power’s low carbon profile helps combat climate change.

Nuclear Waste

WCS started out as a solid waste landfill in 1989. The owner of WCS, now deceased, was Harold Simmons, who bankrolled the swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004. More to the point, Mr. Simmons gave Rick Perry $620,000 through 2009. WCS expanded into nuclear waste in 2009 while Mr. Perry was governor. Despite objections from environmental regulators, the expansion was approved by the Texas Council on Environmental Quality, whose members Mr. Perry appointed.

WCS has now applied for an NRC license to store commercial spent nuclear fuel at its Texas dump. The storage contract would be worth billions of taxpayer dollars and would be awarded by the DOE. Mr. Perry could help WCS again.

However, it should be noted that the DOE’s nuclear waste program is in disarray. The Alliance and allies across the country mounted strong opposition to its proposal to consolidate commercial spent nuclear fuel. We succeeded, and funding for the consent-based spent fuel consolidation program has been significantly reduced. We’ll be working in Congress in 2017 to make certain they hear our message, too.

Nuclear Weapons

No one benefits from uncertainty in the nuclear weapons arena. Mr. Trump’s understanding of international relations is thin and his careless tweets and statements are in sharp contrast to the measured diplomacy that has kept nuclear destruction at bay. His mid-December tweet that the US “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes” caused worldwide consternation. The situation was not improved when he was later reported to have “clarified” the tweet by saying, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” There’s no explanation for any of this, but presidents play a large role in our nuclear posture.

The Snake River Alliance has worked on nuclear issues since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter had to respond to the Three-Mile Island nuclear reactor accident. Our members have had a significant positive effect on nuclear policy ever since.

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