Friday, July 11, 2008

Nuclear waste storage funding best spent supporting research

While the state's congressional delegation is fighting the good fight, opposing the project at Yucca Mountain, where the federal government aims to bury 77,000 tons of highly reactive nuclear waste in the Nevada desert, officials should turn their sights to giving maximum support to research that aims to minimize nuclear waste and to developing safe storage of what is left.

Although Congress has been unwilling to give President George W. Bush all the funding he requested in his budget proposal for Yucca Mountain, millions of dollars are being invested every year. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water agreed to more than $386 million for 2009, the same amount as for 2008. Chronic short-funding and delay mean the Energy Department is unlikely to meet its 2010 target date for implementation.

Nevertheless, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose full funding request was approved, will have enough money to process the Yucca Mountain license application.

Our representatives have focused so much effort on trying to stop Yucca Mountain or at least to delay it because their constituents don't want it here. To a large extent, they have been successful and are to be commended.

Besides the fact that no one wants a nuclear dump in their back yard, possible dangers to people and the environment during storage and while transporting the material from around the country top the list of objections to Yucca Mountain.

While Nevada seems to be alone in fighting the repository, most states will not want highly reactive nuclear waste to be shipped through their cities and across their farmlands. The project may never be completed, in fact, but the amount of investment in the development will be enormous. It is unfortunate that federal officials are willing to force the state to accept this project that so few people want. The biggest waste occurs as the result of that fight.

Meanwhile, the money would be better spent funding research into ways to use nuclear material more effectively, so as to minimize the waste and the possible dangers, and in devising safe methods of storing massive amounts of spent nuclear rods in one place.

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