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13.8.04

All He Knows Is: Don't Put It At Yucca Mountain

Bush accuses Kerry of changing stance on nuclear waste repository

But Bush said Kerry's opposition to Yucca Mountain is less ironclad than it might appear because he cast several votes favoring it in the past.

"Now, my opponent's trying to turn Yucca Mountain into a political poker chip," Bush said to a hand-picked audience at a union hall of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "He says he's strongly against Yucca here in Nevada, but he voted for it several times. And so did his running mate."

The Kerry campaign said any such votes were procedural, but could be interpreted as support for the site. In fact, on the key Senate procedural vote to move toward approval of Bush's Feb. 15, 2002, decision to make Yucca Mountain the nation's permanent nuclear-waste repository, Kerry voted no, according to Congressional Quarterly.

... "My point to you is that, if they're going to change one day, they may change again," Bush said. "I think you need straight talk on this issue. I think you need somebody who's going to do what he says he's going to do."


The Kerry campaign has answered the "flip-flopping" side of the charge, by pointing out that Kerry's votes for Yucca Mountain were votes on procedural measures and multi-part bills that happened to include provisions on Yucca Mountain, and that he's been consistently opposed when given a clear chance to make an up-or-down vote on the site. Yet none of that answers the "political poker chip" charge. Given how consistently environmentalists have opposed Yucca Mountain*, and given that environmentalists are a key part of Kerry's base whereas the nuclear industry (which is struggling to figure out where to put all its spent fuel) is not, it's a no-brainer for Kerry to oppose the repository.

Looking deeper into Kerry's views on the issue seems to support the "political poker chip" analysis. Prominently featured on Kerry's site is "The Truth on Yucca Mountain," dedicated to shifting the "flip-flopper" charge onto Bush. Aside from warning about the dangers of "mobile Chernobyls" (which suggests that he opposes the idea of a centralized waste repository regardless of its location) and a promise to have an international panel of scientists study the issue, specifics on what Kerry would do about nuclear waste are scant. So his condemnation of Yucca Mountain seems to be part of a longstanding strategy of tapping into opposition to that particular plan.

*I personally haven't done enough research to have a strong feeling. On the one hand, there's certainly at least the appearance of impropriety in how politics pushed the science on Yucca Mountain, but on the other hand I'm unconvinced by the "mobile Chernobyls" argument and concerned about the need to find a permanent home for the waste being stored at sites all across the country.

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