The 104th Congress seems intent on turning Nevada into a nuclear waste dump.

First, a senator from Louisiana introduced a bill to make Yucca Mountain, 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a temporary storage facility. Now, Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., are sponsoring the Integrated Spent Nuclear Fuel Management Act of 1995, which would turn the Nevada Test Site into a temporary repository by 1998.The fact that everyone seems to be pointing at Nevada is not comforting for Utahns. As stated on this page before, the construction of a single nuclear repository in a far-flung western desert is not the best solution to this problem. It presents many hazards, not only for Utahns, but for millions of Americans.

When it comes to nuclear storage in Nevada, all roads lead through Utah. Two of the truck routes and three of the train routes that would carry the waste from all points east travel through the state. Some experts estimate 60,000 tons of tainted materials would pass through these routes, and nearly all the trucks and 88 percent of the trains headed for Nevada would touch Utah at some point.

At present, thousands of tons of nuclear wastes lie in storage at nuclear power plants throughout the nation. Critics complain these wastes are unstable, and that is correct. But they are not nearly as unstable as they would be inside a moving train or truck. Accidents are bound to happen. Using past performance as a model, the nation could expect more than 50 accidents involving nuclear waste shipments during the first 30 years.

However, the number probably would be much higher, considering the shipments would travel much farther than at any time in the past. Those accidents could occur anywhere along the route, in any of a number of cities and towns nationwide.

It's a scary prospect. But then, no easy or safe solutions come to mind when dealing with such dangerous cargo.

And Utahns, as well as other Americans, can't afford to overlook the fact that time is running out on the nuclear waste issue. The federal government promised in 1982 that it would take possession of the accumulated wastes by Jan. 31, 1998. Now the Department of Energy says it wants to wait until 2010 at the earliest.

That won't do. Up to 80 nuclear plants are expected to run out of storage space by then. Meanwhile, the government has accumulated more than $10 billion in its Nuclear Waste Fund and Congress is clamoring for action.

Unfortunately, nuclear waste has been a political snake for nearly 40 years, with elected officials doing their utmost to keep from being bitten despite volumes of hard evidence that could have led to several suitable sites.

A decade ago, DOE officials chose three sites in Tennessee as the best choices, but politics got in the way. The same thing happened in 1972 after the Atomic Energy Commission chose salt deposits near Lyons, Kan., as the best site.

Nevada is a convenient, desolate site that has the added advantage of being devoid of any real political clout. But its selection as the only destination for nuclear waste - even if it is only a temporary site - seems unwise. A better solution would be to set up a system of smaller repositories nationwide.