The longest-serving member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is retiring. Here’s what he has to say about Yucca Mountain:

Ed McGaffigan, a veteran member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Monday that the Yucca Mountain program is deeply flawed and that the Nevada nuclear waste site should be scrapped.

"It may be time to stop digging, and it may be time to rethink," McGaffigan said in a critique of the Energy Department program as he prepares to retire from the five-member commission that regulates nuclear safety.

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"I think Yucca Mountain has been beset by bad law, bad regulatory policy, bad science policy, bad personnel policy, bad budget policy throughout its history," McGaffigan said. "Every time somebody has done something to try to speed things up, it has backfired."

This reminds me of an argument against nuclear that’s worth reiterating: the consequences of an accident at a reactor or waste-holding facility are enormous. It may be possible to design systems that make such an accident extremely unlikely, but all those systems, in the end, rely on the competence of everyone from regulators to managers to low-level employees.

Relying on the uniform competence of large groups of people to prevent catastrophe doesn’t strike me as a particularly wise strategy. Part of what’s attractive about a decentralized renewable energy system is that it degrades gracefully; the consequences of individual screw-ups, accidents, or wrongdoing are relatively localized.

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