Problems and Prospects for Nuclear Waste Disposal Policy

By Eric B. Herzik; Alvin H. Mushkatel | Go to book overview

1

When Rationality and Good Science Are Not Enough: Science, Politics, and the Policy Process

ERIC B. HERZIK and E. ROBERT STATHAM

The development of nuclear waste policies in the United States has been anything but consensual and is often stalemated. In large part this reflects the neglect given the back end of the fuel cycle as the use of nuclear energy quickly expanded in the 1950s through the 1970s ( Wilson, 1979; Herzik, 1993). At a time when the nuclear industry enjoyed a nearly total hegemony over the policy process ( Baumgartner and Jones, 1991; Thurber, 1991) waste disposal policies were not developed. Now, with the nuclear industry challenged on multiple fronts, every waste policy initiative becomes an arduous political struggle.

The history of the breakdown of the nuclear industry's control over the policymaking process has been the subject of several studies ( Carter, 1987; Jacob, 1990; Baumgartner and Jones, 1991). The preponderance of blame for this breakdown has generally fallen on the weak management and control record of various government regulatory and policymaking bodies, and the lack of input granted diverse entities in the fashioning and oversight of nuclear policy development ( Kraft, 1992; Herzik, 1993). Despite these criticisms nuclear waste remains a problem that must be addressed. At present there are a wide range of nuclear wastes in temporary storage. By the year 2000, the volume of various wastes is estimated to include more than 88,000 tons of high-level wastes and 3.5 million tons of low-level wastes ( U. S. GAO, 1981). Indeed, it often seems as if the existence of these wastes and their current storage safety and health risks are lost in political battles among state and local governments, environmental groups, the nuclear industry, and federal regulatory agencies.

The jockeying for political victories in the waste policy process-- whether these victories be the successful siting of a facility or the blockage

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