CBS Notices Obama Administration Playing Politics With Nuclear Waste Disposal, NBC and ABC Silent

Since Japan's earthquake and following nuclear crisis, the CBS Evening News has done two reports on the Obama administration blocking use of the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada to safely dispose of U.S. nuclear waste. Meanwhile, NBC and ABC have ignored the controversy.

The first CBS report on the issue came on March 22, when Evening News anchor Katie Couric declared: "The crisis in Japan has renewed the debate over nuclear power in this country. Today a federal appeals court heard arguments in a lawsuit over what to do with spent fuel rods." Correspondent Jim Axelrod explained: "An estimated 66,000 metric tons of spent fuel are stored at 77 sites around the country. That's more than 145 million pounds....Plans to make Yucca Mountain in Nevada a long-term storage site were scuttled by the Obama administration a year ago, after 20 years of planning costing $14 billion."

In a follow-up piece on Thursday's Evening News, correspondent Armen Keteyian went further in laying blame on the Obama administration: "There was one site designed to hold all of our nation's nuclear waste and it's right here in the high desert of Nevada, at a place called Yucca Mountain. Today, the federal government won't let our cameras anywhere near it. It's shut down, locked up, caught up in what critics charge is nothing more than pure politics."

Fill-in anchor Erica Hill teased Keteyian's report at the top of the broadcast: "Why did plans to bury nuclear waste inside Nevada's Yucca Mountain get killed? Was it safety fears or politics?" Keteyian described how the, "Obama administration kept its campaign promise....And shut down Yucca Mountain. Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must decide if it wants to restart what is already a 25-year, $14 billion project, in the face of tough opposition, like that from Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada."

Keteyian also pointed out the political background of the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Obama: "A former staffer for Senator Reid, Greg Jaczko, now chairs the NRC. Jaczko recently came under fire after shutting down the agency's safety review of Yucca Mountain and after key safety recommendations were redacted, cut out, from a long-awaited NRC report."

In the March 22 report, Axelrod noted: "The head of the NRC may not see a pressing problem, but the states now suing did not want to take that risk before Japan's disaster and certainly don't want to now."

On Thursday, Keteyian challenged Jaczko: "Critics charge that you were simply doing the bidding of your former boss, Senator Harry Reid, a fierce opponent of this project."

Keteyian concluded his piece: "The NRC inspector general and Congress are now investigating the decision to shut down the safety review. Still, nuclear waste is scattered across 35 states, and Yucca Mountain sits silent and empty."


Here is a full transcript of Keteyian's March 31 report:

6:30PM ET TEASE:

ERICA HILL: Why did plans to bury nuclear waste inside Nevada's Yucca Mountain get killed? Was it safety fears or politics?
    
6:38PM ET TEASE:

HILL: And when we come back, it was supposed to store all of America's nuclear waste, so why then is this desert facility now deserted?

6:40PM ET SEGMENT:

HILL: For more than 50 years a debate has raged over where to store radioactive nuclear waste in this country. And that debate has been reignited by the crisis in Japan. The solution was supposed to be here at a place called Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the multibillion-dollar storage project has been shelved and as chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian explains, a congressional committee wants to find out why.

ARMEN KETEYIAN: Nuclear waste – the radioactive guest on the doorstep of many of America's most populous cities. Nearly 70,000 tons from 104 reactors often piling up within 50 miles from cities like New York, Chicago, and San Diego.

There was one site designed to hold all of our nation's nuclear waste and it's right here in the high desert of Nevada, at a place called Yucca Mountain. Today, the federal government won't let our cameras anywhere near it. It's shut down, locked up, caught up in what critics charge is nothing more than pure politics.

Gary Holis and Darrell Lacey are key officials in Nye County, Nevada. They want the waste at Yucca Mountain for the jobs and money it would bring.

DARRELL LACY [NYE COUNTY NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY PROJECT OFFICE]: The people in this area are all fairly comfortable with Yucca Mountain. Many of them have worked at Yucca Mountain.

KETEYIAN: Four previous presidents funded safety reviews of the project but last year the Obama administration kept its campaign promise.

CAMPAIGN AD: Barack Obama opposes opening Yucca.

KETEYIAN: And shut down Yucca Mountain. Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must decide if it wants to restart what is already a 25-year, $14 billion project, in the face of tough opposition, like that from Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada.

JEFFREY LEWIS [PH.D., NUCLEAR SAFETY EXPERT]: If the U.S. government wanted to do Yucca Mountain, it would have had to shove it down Harry Reid's throat.

KETEYIAN: A former staffer for Senator Reid, Greg Jaczko, now chairs the NRC. Jaczko recently came under fire after shutting down the agency's safety review of Yucca Mountain and after key safety recommendations were redacted, cut out, from a long-awaited NRC report. Three NRC staffers formally protested the decision to derail the safety review, charging it caused 'confusion, chaos, and anguish'. Today, Jaczko told us the safety report was preliminary, a draft, and that he had nothing to do with the redactions.

Critics charge that you were simply doing the bidding of your former boss, Senator Harry Reid, a fierce opponent of this project.

GREGORY JACZKO [PH.D., CHAIRMAN, U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: It was a difficult decision and – because it is such a controversial program – but, again, it was one that was made in, I believe, in the best interest of the agency.

KETEYIAN: The NRC inspector general and Congress are now investigating the decision to shut down the safety review. Still, nuclear waste is scattered across 35 states, and Yucca Mountain sits silent and empty. Armen Keteyian, CBS News, Nye County, Nevada.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.
 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC