Time to Pay the Piper

Article excerpt

ACHIEVEMENTS like splitting the atom and developing useful chemical products usually come with a price tag. Actually, three price tags: one for the cost of research and development, another for production and distribution, and the third for dealing with byproducts and side effects - which may not be known, or acknowledged, prior to production and use.

The bills now are coming due for a couple of these 20th century wonders: nuclear power and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

A recent scientific report indicates that the ozone layer - which protects Earth's inhabitants from possibly harmful radiation - may become thinner than expected sooner than expected, and in an unexpected area.

Meanwhile, a significant step toward solving the problem of how to safely store radioactive nuclear waste is awaiting approval by Congress and the State of New Mexico. A federal judge has issued an injunction prohibiting the United States Department of Energy (DOE) from beginning storage of nuclear waste in a repository there until Congress and New Mexico approve. The waste, from plutonium bombs, would be stored in a salt formation 2,150 feet below the surface. DOE officials say the 4,000 to 8,000 barrels of waste could be removed if the site were found not to be suitable. The judge disagrees.

For more than two decades suitable methods and locations for storing radioactive waste have been sought. Meanwhile, nuclear waste continues to be held at sites that are conceded to be unfit. …