SITING NUCLEAR WASTE
BARRY G. RABE
NUCLEAR REACTORS HAVE GENERATED SIGNIFICANT QUANTITIES OF electricity and related varieties of waste products in both Canada and the United States for nearly a half-century. During much of that period, these facilities and their wastes were hardly seen as forms of loss imposition. To the contrary, the construction and commissioning of new nuclear power facilities were distributional goods, energetically pursued and enthusiastically welcomed by many of the Canadian and American communities fortunate enough to be selected to host them. In many respects, site selection for nuclear power plants resembled the distributional politics of hospital expansion or highway construction, with any sense of “loss” felt primarily in those communities that were unsuccessful in securing one.
These facilities were highly attractive to communities, offering immediate access to state-of-the-art electrical generating capacity that was widely expected to be “too cheap to meter.” More important, they promised a significant economic development boost, with large numbers of high-paying jobs that appeared secure for decades to come. The opening of nuclear power plants in various states and provinces regularly provided an opportunity for credit-claiming by elected officials who could brag of their involvement in the siting process; ribbon-cutting ceremonies were often crowded with officials from all levels of governments eager to get into the photograph. Many communities with substantial nuclear power plants or related research centers became known as “Ph.D. capitals” and boasted unusually high rates of per pupil expenditures for public school students, owing to the high