The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to allow nuclear-waste storage in western Utah probably won't have a direct effect on Yucca Mountain, but there were several disturbingly familiar assumptions made in the process.
The deal to store 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is between a private company and a sovereign tribe, two big factors to distinguish the site in Skull Valley from the Nevada site at Yucca Mountain.
The Skull Valley facility also calls for above-ground storage and is being called temporary, until the U.S. Department of Energy establishes a permanent repository in Southern Nevada. So it's being developed as something of a way station for waste en route to Nevada.
The first issue is the apparent disregard for the wishes of the state of Utah, where leaders are as adamant about keeping nuclear waste out of their state as are Nevada's leaders. That the nuclear industry and Goshute tribe can consummate such a deal may be legal - although we have our doubts there, too - but it doesn't stand up in the court of public opinion.
People don't want nuclear waste stored in their back yard - anywhere. That is why the nuclear industry wants to ship it to places like Nevada and Utah. Fewer people, they think, fewer problems.
But that is where a second fallacy arises. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission apparently has accepted the idea that it is safe to ship nuclear waste across the country. Whether by truck or by rail, such an undertaking not only would expose the radioactive waste to terrorist threats, but also would expose many communities to the potential of a nuclear accident that don't now face such a risk.
Finally, there is the concept of one central site as the answer to nuclear storage.
The nuclear industry claims it is better to have one site than 60-plus, where waste is now stored near nuclear plants.
Such logic ignores the fact that all nuclear plants must continue to operate secure storage facilities while the waste awaits shipment.
All the Skull Valley option seems to prove is that it is more feasible to store waste above ground where it is produced than to ship it across the country to either Utah or Nevada.