The continuing question of where to bury nuclear waste has high stakes for the West.
officials have focused on permanent burial of the waste in two
locations: Yucca Mountain, Nev., for commercial nuclear waste from
nuclear power plants, and Carlsbad, N.M., for bomb-production waste
contaminated with plutonium.
Both sites have been
plagued by problems. Opponents of Yucca Mountain say the geology
and seismic activity of the area might allow groundwater to seep
into the storage site, causing a nuclear explosion that could
shower fallout on nearby Las Vegas (HCN, 4/3/95). The opening date
has been pushed back to 2010, and with proposed budget cuts, even
supporters give it only a 50 percent chance of ever becoming a
Water problems have plagued New
Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) as well. Until
recently, brine leaked into its underground salt chambers. Critics
also say drilling in the oil-rich area in the distant future might
cause radioactive releases.
sought to overcome delays with legislation. Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M.,
added a rider to the House Energy and Water budget bill that would
bypass certification of WIPP by the EPA, moving the opening date
from 1998 to 1997. That rider died after failing to make it onto
the Senate's budget bill.
Because of the shaky
future of Yucca Mountain, many people are looking to above-ground
temporary storage as the solution for high-level waste. Sen. Larry
Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Dan Schaefer, R-Colo., have sponsored
legislation that would open a 100-year dump on the Nevada Nuclear
Test Site by 1998. Other legislators are pushing DOE facilities in
Hanford, Wash., and Savannah River, S.C., as interim burial
Most environmentalists oppose plans for
both permanent and temporary nuclear waste storage. "We know that
with every cask that comes into Idaho, the nation is less inclined
to deal with the waste problems," says activist Beatrice
Brailsford. Her answer: Store it where you make it, at commercial
nuclear plants and Navy ports across the country.