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Utahns, in the path of radiation from nuclear bomb testing for years during the '50s, are again being asked to take the brunt of the potentially dangerous effects of the nuclear age.

This time, the paths of trains and trucks carrying spent nuclear fuel from the nation's 109 atomic power plants and highly radioactive plutonium from defense-related projects will be crossing Utah at the rate of two per day for 30 years if Yucca Mountain in Nevada becomes the nation's nuclear waste repository site.The federal government, under measures proposed by congressmen whose states are about as far from Nevada as you can get, wants a permanent underground storage facility for the nuclear garbage at Yucca Moun-tain.

Their plan would mean about 90 percent of the shipments from nuclear plants and defense facilities across the Midwest and East would cross Utah - probably about 62,000 of them - when the project reaches full operation in about 2010.

The lawmakers say the waste is dangerous where it is, but nuclear waste aboard trains and trucks moving along freeways through populated areas is obviously more dangerous. Few accidents have occurred so far in the transport of such waste, but nothing like the massive movements being proposed has yet been undertaken.

Judging from government experience with moving nuclear waste, there likely would be about 50 accidents over the 30 years. But even one accident involving such lethal material could be devastating. The odds, viewed that way, are not good for Utahns.

Naturally, Nevada officials aren't enthusiastic about having a huge nuclear repository 90 miles from Las Vegas - it's something nobody wants in their back yard - but Nevadans also are concerned about the transportation dangers. Experience with government promises of safety has done little to allay fears.

At a hearing in Salt Lake City concerning the Yucca project, Robert J. Halstead, transportation adviser for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the Yucca site should have been disqualified. He said the Department of Energy has not provided safety information on the transportation routes through Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

Halstead raised other good points that seem to have been overlooked in the government's push for the Nevada site. How would the shipments affect tourism? Could people be evacuated safely in case of a disastrous accident? How could the shipments and the repository be protected from terrorist attacks?

The questions are valid and must be settled. But the big question still remains: Why not keep the nuclear waste closer to where it is generated, eliminating the dangerous transportation problems in the first place?

Building smaller, regional repositories instead of one huge facility far away from the power plants makes more sense. But too many people are looking at the issue through political blinders.

The nuclear garbage has to be stored somewhere, but moving it across the country puts it into many more back yards than keeping it closer to the source.