By January 1987 four years had passed since President Reagan hailed passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) as the long-awaited answer to the radioactive waste problem. But the act is proving not to be the answer. As now pursued, the repository siting effort in the United States appears to be headed into a political cul-de-sac and will not come close to its goal of establishing the first geologic repository by 1998. The very concept of geologic disposal might even be discredited and lost as a practical political possibility.
On May 28, 1986, the Department of Energy, after close consultation with the White House and with the approval of the president as required by NWPA, announced that the list of candidate sites for the first repository had been narrowed to the three which had been tentatively nominated earlier in the states of Texas, Nevada, and Washington. These sites would each undergo a characterization process that would include exploration from deep shafts; total costs at each site could run as high as $1 billion. The disclosure represented a major step toward the selection in 1991 of a site in the West for the first repository. At the same time, the department also announced that the site screening for a second repository which had been going on in the upper Midwest and in the East was to be suspended indefinitely.1 Taken together, these announcements were the latest developments in what has been called in department parlance the "First Round" and the "Second Round" of repository siting efforts.
Key decisions in the Second Round had been expected to follow those of the First Round by five years or more. But now the Second Round,____________________