States' rights and nuclear-waste disposal
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The rugged pride of revolutionaries whose deep wisdom founded this country and wrote the documents on which its life has depended for two hundred years gave the responsibility to working out specific details to future generations. This trust, perhaps unique in human history, has thus far been justified. It is currently meeting its stiffest test.Skip to next paragraph
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Federalism is perhaps the most perplexing issue, if not the most fundamental. Although it is true that we are citizens of a state, we are more fundamentally citizens of our nation. Fifty percent of middle-class America will be living in a different state five years from now, but not in a different nation. And if nuclear power is an important issue, it is an important nationalm issue, even for those states that get no electric power from nuclear fission. If all nuclear plants were to shut down immediately, for example, the increased demand would most probably drive up the price of coal for everyone,m not to mention the cost of oil.
And yet, in order to redress grievances and atone for past sins, we are about , it seems, to give states at least de facto if not de jure, veto power over the siting of a nuclear waste repository. Such a development, although it might seem attractive at present, creates more problems than it solves. And it really doesn't solve any problems, except in the very short term. If it is possiblem for a governor or state legislature to exercise veto power over such a controversial issue as siting a dump for dangerous materials, there will be enormous pressure on them to do so.
Effect of this "solution" would be to ask the states to resolve a national problem. Although there is some evidence that this is possible -- Massachusetts , for example, has just taken the lead in developing sites for a regional low level nuclear waste repository -- it puts the onus on the wrong entity. If it is a national problem, the responsibility belongs to the federal government.
Even more importantly, this "solution" dodges the issue of the adequacy of the decisional process itself. The real issue is not whether state governments agree to the siting of a nuclear waste repository, but whether the people and their elected representatives do. Both the people near the proposed site and the people of the nation have a right through their various governmental agencies to be assured that the decision was the correct one, and that those that so desired had opportunity for some influence in the matter. None of this is accomplished by giving the states veto power. In fact, it works against such a solution.
No, this issue must be joined directly between the people of the United States and the federal government, not by a national referendum but by a decisional process that assures everyone of its adequacy and fairness. To do otherwise would place formidable barriers in the way of the resolution of future environmental/technological issues.
We are presently moving into a time of great difficulty in regard to hazardous waste facilities, for example. The success or lack thereof of the resolution of the nuclear waste issue is going to greatly influence the success of other technological developments with strong economic and political implications. Once again, it is a question of political will combined with technological excellence, not technology alone.