Nuclear waste disposal has become such a sticky tangle of political and technical issues that anyone who picks up this problem may find it hard to put down. I first had to do with the nuclear waste problem in the late 1970s as a reporter for Science magazine, but this was a passing encounter that gave me little idea of what to expect from the much more intimate involvement to come.
This book, on which I began work in the fall of 1980, was originally planned to take a year and a half, a highly optimistic schedule shaped more by the limited availability of funds than by anything else. The fact is, I was embarking on a fascinating but grueling endeavor that was to last six full years.
The first year was taken up largely with field research in Europe and the United States. This included full body immersion in the history of nuclear waste management and in the details of how radioactive wastes are generated throughout the nuclear fuel cycle and of the fate of those wastes. This immersion was as necessary as it was time consuming. Knowing something in the abstract is far different from knowing it in detail; as the saying goes, "The devil is in the details."
The second year was given over mainly to preparing the initial drafts of the book's European, Japanese, and international chapters. Meanwhile, Congress had passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, so the third year was devoted to reconstructing that experience and describing how American nuclear waste policy-making began back in the Ford and the Carter administrations. A chapter examining part of the American experience in nuclear fuel reprocessing also was prepared during this period.
By the end of 1983, a first draft of the entire book was near completion. But I had the sense of being still engaged with a messy and confusing set of issues that I was not yet ready or able to leave or put down. What remained was to pull things together according to several integrative