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[cdn-nucl-l] Quit dawdling on nuclear waste
Posted in the Chicago Tribune on January 18, 2002 and at:
Quit dawdling on nuclear waste
Published January 18, 2002
For nearly 20 years, plans to build a national nuclear waste repository
have been hobbled not by facts, logic or funds, but by politics: Witness
the crucial--and wrongheaded--votes by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
against a central nuclear storage in 1997 and 2000, despite the science
and the interests of his own state.
Congress likely will vote on this again in the next few months, and
today the risk of terrorism makes a central and secure nuclear waste
repository all the more urgent. That alone ought to persuade Durbin to
rethink his position.
A safe and well-guarded depository is needed for thousands of tons of
spent fuel from some 80 nuclear reactors nationwide. Illinois has the
largest number of nuclear power plants and the most nuclear waste. The
shuttered ComEd plant at Zion, north of Chicago and 120 yards from Lake
Michigan, holds 2.7 million pounds of spent fuel rods. All told, nearly
4,500 metric tons of nuclear waste in Illinois awaits permanent storage.
After nearly 20 years and $7 billion of study and tests, the federal
government has selected a facility 1,000 feet below ground in Yucca
Mountain, Nev. It abuts an Air Force base and the Nevada Test Site,
where more than 900 nuclear weapons have been tested. The closest
population center is Las Vegas, about 100 miles away.
On Jan. 10, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham officially recommended to
President Bush that Yucca Mountain be selected as the storage facility.
The Nevada members of Congress have vowed to fight that. But Congress
must think of the greater good and proceed with the project.
Congress voted two years ago to move nuclear waste to Nevada once the
storage facility received a federal license. President Clinton vetoed
the bill, a decision based mostly on Democratic Party political
calculations in Nevada. A move to override the veto failed in the Senate
by just two votes. Durbin voted against Yucca Mountain.
Critics are right that the safety of Yucca Mountain cannot be absolutely
guaranteed. Neither can the transportation of it to Nevada. An estimated
75 percent of the shipments will go through Illinois.
But this is a matter of relative risk. One centralized, permanent
storage site would be far safer, and far easier to protect, than sites
scattered throughout the country. The small risk in transporting the
waste--it will be hauled in steel and concrete containers--is far
preferable to the risk of further deterioration of temporary storage
sites, many of which are nearing capacity.
The risk of terrorist attacks against scattered nuclear power plants and
local storage facilities only adds to the urgency to build a permanent
and secure storage place.
President Bush should sign off on Secretary Abrams' recommendation.
Congress--with strong support from the Illinois delegation--should act
swiftly to get this moving.
Even in the best of scenarios, Yucca Mountain won't be ready for
operations for another 10 years. By then the government will have spent
nearly 30 years debating what to do. The nation, and Illinois, cannot
wait any longer.
Copyright C 2002, Chicago Tribune