When it comes to clean, inexpensive energy, few alternatives can compare with nuclear power. Promising advances are being made in solar energy, but the production of large quantities of solar power at competitive prices remains likely decades away. Other renewable sources, from wind generators to ocean waves, remain too primitive at the moment to handle the needs of a growing state.

So it is prudent that members of a Utah legislative interim committee last week voted unanimously to begin drafting a bill that would allow a nuclear power plant in Utah. That's seems the clearest alternative right now to the state's coal-fired energy industry, which pollutes and uses a finite resource.

But if lawmakers decide to pursue this course, they need to do so with full awareness of the downsides and after a thorough investigation.

Chief among the downsides, of course, are the spent fuel rods that will result from nuclear power generation. Utah has just endured a messy fight with a consortium of eastern power generators that wanted to store spent fuel rods in the West Desert. These rods remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. That fight may not be over. The consortium and the Goshute Indians, whose land would house the repository, have sued the Interior Department.

But while Utahns strongly opposed the storage facility, the truth is that nuclear power plants are themselves default storage facilities, and they are scattered among many populated parts of the United States where they have been kept without incident for years. That doesn't mean they pose no risk, nor does it mean the nation can keep piling up spent rods indefinitely.

One answer to this problem lies in reprocessing those rods, something already done in France, Great Britain and elsewhere. Recycling is an expensive procedure, however. But that cost has to be weighed against the benefits it would provide, including a reduced need for space to store the final waste that cannot be recycled.

Perhaps a public subsidy to make recycled fuel affordable would be cheaper for the public than using taxes to build repositories and ship the waste across the nation.

We look forward to and encourage the development of other clean energy sources. Nuclear power's costs in today's world cannot be overlooked, however. Neither can its impressive safety record. The Nuclear Energy Institute says the cost is less than that of coal generators and sinking. It puts construction costs at about the same to slightly higher than coal plants.

All of these are factors lawmakers need to investigate and consider. We're glad they have begun that process.