Las Vegas Business Press

Las Vegas Business Press

Abraham's culpable works go unexamined

From the beginning of the Yucca Mountain battle, president after president, energy secretary after energy secretary has assured Nevadans that the suitability of the mountain for a waste dump would be judged on science, not politics.

What is remarkable is how little effort U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham put into making a scientific case, and his own words are the evidence.

In his Jan. 10 letter notifying Gov. KennyGuinn of his intention to recommend Nevada as the dump site, Abraham nodded fleetingly in the direction of science (one sentence), then spent the rest of the letter advancing entirely nonscientific grounds for the recommendation.

He wrote of the "effective operation of our nuclear navy." He wrote of "terrorist attacks" that might target power plant on-site dumps. He wrote of the importance of assuring that "nuclear power ... remains an important part of our domestic energy production."

All of these issues are legitimate and arguable issues of nuclear waste policy, but they're not the science that is supposed to underlie Abraham's personal preferences in public policy on nuclear issues.

This is a truly remarkable document, and it is astonishing that it has gotten so little attention, since Abraham convicts himself with his own words.

Gov. Guinn has called Abraham's terrorism argument "... an emotional issue. It is certainly not scientific." But U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has defended Abraham's use of nonscientific arguments in the letter: "The secretary of energy is not only a scientific operator, but he also deals in government and ... deals with the politics, with government. He's a political appointee, so I think he has both responsibilities."

The problem with Reid's stance is that it does not distinguish between Abraham's leadership role on policy and his legal responsibility for the Yucca Mountain project, which is supposed to be solely restricted to science. The letter Abraham wrote to Guinn is a legal document, required under section 114(a)(1) of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It's not an op-ed page essay or a policy recommendation to Congress or a speech to an energy conference. (Guinn and Reid do agree that, as Guinn puts it, "the terrorism issue is our issue ... 200 moving targets on the highways all across America.")

In his tantrum against Nevadans two weeks ago, nuclear power industry lobbyist John Sununu made a point similar to Abraham's "terrorist attacks" argument when he spoke of whether Nevada is "willing to do its part in what is part of a national plan for homeland security" (if you think disdain for this McCarthyite line is limited to Nevada, see the Washington Post Web page for columnist Mary McGrory's Jan. 20 essay, "Nuclear Booby Prize.")

But Sununu is paid to raise off-the-point issues to divert attention from the science of Yucca Mountain. Abraham's job, however, is to not be diverted from science.