Waste Watching

The finger-pointing over nuclear waste disposal seems endless. Right now, the finger is pointed most emphatically at the US Department of Energy.

By statute, the DOE was supposed to start taking charge of storing waste from US nuclear power plants on Jan. 31. There was never much hope of that. The proposed national waste depository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., is far from ready, and political opposition has so far blocked designation of a temporary site there or elsewhere.

What to do now? The power industry wants the government to make good on its promise, or return the money it has collected. After all, utility ratepayers have been paying for the prospective storage site for years.

Anti-nuke activists are just as fervently opposed to any such site and the transport of radioactive materials it would entail.

But the nation needs a permanent facility and, if necessary, interim options. The waste has to be securely stored for thousands of years. The piles of casks mounting at nuclear plant sites - often next to important waterways - are strictly a short-term solution.

No one knew what a job this would be decades ago when the nuclear plants started going up and the government started making its promises about waste storage. Patience and a willingness to subordinate local and state politics to the national interest are now needed to finish the job.

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