Congressman Joe Courtney and freshman Sen. Chris Murphy were not happy with the Aug. 17 editorial, "Telling silence," critical of the fact that the region's representatives in Washington had nothing to say about a federal court decision ordering the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move ahead with a licensing application for the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste facility in Nevada. That was supposed to be the place where the nation would permanently and safely store the spent nuclear fuel that continues to be stored at operating and decommissioned nuclear plants across the country. Those sites include, in our region, the Millstone Power Station in Waterford and the location of the former Connecticut Yankee plant in Haddam.
As a political gift to Senate Majority Harry Reid of Nevada, who has long and vigorously fought the planned waste facility in his state, President Obama announced early in his first term that the U.S. Department of Energy would not pursue the Yucca Mountain project, despite the billions of dollars spent studying and preparing it. The NRC suspended its review of the license application.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the NRC to proceed. The law designating Yucca Mountain for the waste storage remains in place, the license application still valid, the court determined. The president cannot simply choose to ignore the statutory mandate. Reid said he is not worried, there is no money for it and he will stand in the way of any efforts to provide it.
Our editorial questioned why Courtney and Murphy, as well as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, did not applaud this court decision and call the president to task. Could it be that they are all Democrats?
While Courtney and Murphy's office concede they did not react to the ruling (the congressman said he was vacationing in rural Maine and "off the grid" when the decision came down), both defended their record on the nuclear waste issue.
As a congressman, Murphy voted repeatedly for the Yucca Mountain facility, noted his communications director, Ben Marter. He also pointed to the May 26, 2013 commentary Murphy wrote for The Day, "What to do with all this spent nuclear fuel?" In it Murphy embraces a proposal for "consent-based citing." That plan would give states and communities around the country large financial incentives for opening storage facilities, as supposed to forcing acceptance.
Courtney said he, too, has consistently backed the Yucca project. In July 2010 he signed a bipartisan letter from lawmakers urging the DOE not to dismantle the Yucca Mountain storage facilities. And Courtney backed a resolution disapproving of the decision to abandon Yucca. He has also opposed bills to defund the project.
The 2nd District congressman said he welcomes the federal court decision if, for no other reason, it could force the administration and Congress to address the issue. Both Murphy and Courtney contend it is not politically feasible to revive the Yucca project anytime soon. And both say if the nation will not pursue that project there must be an alternative offered. Storing the spent uranium fuel rods - which will give off deadly radiation for thousands of years - at more than 100 nuclear sites across the country is not a policy alternative, but an abandonment of responsibility.
There is no denying the two lawmakers have a record of supporting the Yucca waste storage plan. Yet I can't help but conclude that if it was a Republican president who abandoned the solution, leaving Connecticut stuck with the stuff, their criticism would be much louder. In his commentary published by The Day, for example, Murphy fails to even mention Obama or the president's actions, instead noting "opposition to the site from the state of Nevada has made completion of the facility difficult."
I'd like to see the lawmakers more upset with the president's lack of leadership on this issue than with The Day's editorial.
Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.