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Western N-storage not a fix

If nothing else, we're in good company. Earlier this week, Sen. Bob Bennett withdrew his support for storing spent nuclear rods underground at Yucca Mountain, Nev. Bennett's decision came on the heels of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to grant a license to Private Fuel Storage to store spent fuel rods on Goshute tribal lands in Skull Valley, Tooele County.

Bennett, speaking on the floor of the Senate, said, "I am making it clear that my support for Yucca Mountain . . . does no longer hold in the situation we find ourselves.

"It makes sense for (nuclear) waste to be stored on site and to be shipped to a reprocessing center."

As long-time readers of this page know, the Deseret Morning News long opposed nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain. As the PFS proposal continued to clear regulatory hoops and the science behind Yucca Mountain had been called into question, Utah's west desert became the most likely disposal site for the nation's waste from commercial power plants. We shifted positions, surmising that, while an underground repository was not the best solution, it was a better option than an above ground storage facility near the Utah Test and Training Range, where F-16s train using live ammunition.

Like Bennett, we've had a change of heart. Given the volumes of nuclear waste being generated by the nuclear energy industry, it is abundantly clear that PFS will become a permanent facility even if Yucca Mountain opens. The Bush administration has called for expanded use of nuclear energy in the United States, which will mean the production of even more waste.

In other words, storage of nuclear waste anywhere in the western United States is a flawed solution.

Sen. Orrin Hatch has not retreated from his support of Yucca Mountain, despite the urging of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and others. Utah needs a united front to fight this threat.

Meanwhile, Hatch has introduced legislation that would prohibit the transportation and off-site storage of waste at a "non-federally owned, off-site facility." Hatch's legislation also calls on the secretary of energy to study storage of spent nuclear fuel at Department of Energy sites around the country. The DOE also would contemplate whether the federal government should take ownership of wastes stored at more than 100 nuclear power plants. And it would require the DOE to study developing facilities to reprocess nuclear waste.

Extensive study on the reprocessing of spent nuclear rods is a must. Some scientists believe the cost of this is prohibitive; that the transportation of waste creates a terrorism risk; and that the process does not substantially reduce the waste stream. Steve Fetter, professor and dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and Frank N. von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University, wrote recently that existing reprocessing methods "would not significantly reduce the total heat output, and thus they would not significantly reduce the amount of repository area required per unit of electricity generated."

Fetter and von Hippel, writing for Arms Control Today, concluded that spent fuel can be stored safely and economically for 50 years in dry cask interim storage. "That leaves plenty of time to clarify the future of nuclear power in the United States and to explore in an open and systematic manner the Yucca Mountain and disposition options for spent fuel discharged by the current generation of reactors."

Utah's elected officials need to stand with other Western leaders to urge a more reasoned approach to the nation's nuclear waste dilemma.