Hard to Get Fired Up about Nuke Waste Dump

Article excerpt

Nice to know that on some things our government is moving right along.

Hey, by 2020, only 12 years from now, we'll have a nuclear waste dump up and running -- or perhaps more exactly, down and buried -- in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The U.S. energy department applied for a license the other day to operate it.

Call off the protest marchers, though. For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission just to rule on the license will take three years. The application is 8,600 pages; 100 NRC staff and contractors will fine- tooth-comb it.

Yucca Mountain was supposed to open in 1998. Even that was late. Nuclear plants have produced electricity for more than a half century. Not one has been built in years, though, never mind their output of close to 20 percent of the nation's kilowatts.

The technology, born in Pittsburgh -- remember the Shippingport plant, 1954? -- has swept much of the industrial world. But America's 104 nuclear plants are far behind in one way. There's never been a place for them to dump their waste -- that is, the fuel rods that contain the residue of their atom-splitting, steam- boiling uranium. It's radioactive and likely to be "hot" for thousands of years. So it has to be buried, although experts are sure it will by dug up anew for reprocessing of its leftover energy riches.

So "storage" really is the word. France, Germany and Japan, all big users, have solved it. Only the United States delays, caught between interest groups. Environmentalists who might welcome the atom's non-production of air pollution, quail at radiation. …