Thursday, August 7, 2008

No easy answers on nuclear waste

No easy answers on nuclear waste

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The facts and figures surrounding Yucca Mountain, the proposed Arizona site that would hold the nation's nuclear waste, never fail to astonish. The cost, which continues to climb with each passing year, now stands at an estimated $96 billion. And the amount of waste, which by some calculations could come in at 122,000 tons, is not easily brushed aside.

But there is one number that stands out among all the others, that forces one to take a serious step back to consider the implications of Yucca Mountain specifically and the nation's nuclear waste more generally: Some of the spent nuclear fuel will remain highly radioactive for a million years.

What we've got on our hands here is a very real - and very long-lasting - problem.

We have argued previously in this space that a rush toward Yucca Mountain may not be the wisest of choices. Imagine tons and tons of dangerous spent nuclear fuel hurtling across the nation on interstate highways and on rail lines and aboard barges, zipping through urban and suburban areas, beside rivers and lakes and municipal water supplies, through rural farmland and across bridges great and small. Then, imagine this happening year after year - without a single accident.

It's almost enough to make you think that doing nothing at all is the best choice. Until you consider what doing nothing at all actually means.

There is no easy solution to this problem. And it is not going to just go away.

Yucca Mountain is in the news again following the newest cost estimate from the Energy Department. It should remain a real part of the debate as calls for the construction of new nuclear power plants continue to mount. We are not suggesting that the reality of nuclear waste should rule out new nuke plants. But it has got to be a part of the discussion.

The nation doesn't need to come up with definitive plans tomorrow, but we shouldn't wait forever. We don't, after all, have a million years to decide on the next - and wisest - nuclear move.

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