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U.S. needs a safer way to store nuclear waste

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, the country is confronting a reality it normally ignores.

Unit one of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station

Unit one of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville, S.C., in 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Chuck Burton

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, the United States is confronting a reality it normally ignores. This nation has no permanent, safe disposal site for the 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste it has created in power and weapons plants. This waste is largely stored where it was generated, often in vulnerable above-ground tanks — at 80 sites in 35 states, including New York.

Nine of those sites, from northern Georgia to North Carolina, are in the potential path of Florence. Several were built with the same technology as the Fukushima power plant in Japan, whose reactors and waste storage were tragically compromised by a tsunami in 2011.

From 1987 until 2010, the United States had a plan for permanent waste storage. At a cost of $15 billion, a safe, vetted facility was devised and mostly constructed under Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Presidents and congressional majorities of both parties consistently supported the project, although Nevada and its politicians generally opposed it.

President Barack Obama cynically killed Yucca Mountain in 2010, mostly to help Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader from Nevada, hold on to his seat and the majority. The Obama administration’s claim that it had come up with a better plan went nowhere. And a 700-page study from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completed and made public in 2014 after the Obama administration failed to keep the report secret was glowing in its appraisal of the facility.

President Donald Trump is pushing to open Yucca Mountain. He’s right to start that conversation. The nation cannot continue to store its nuclear waste haphazardly. And it cannot wait until a storm is bearing down to worry about the problem. — The editorial board


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