Nuclear Waste Disposal the Topic of Wyden Measure

By Tom Bacon

The leaky old Hanford Nuclear Reservation has become the nation's poster child on the perils of handling, storage and management of radioactive waste left over from weapons and power production.  But a broader question nagging state and federal governments is where to permanently deposit thousands of tons of nuclear waste piling up at sites ill-suited to handle it.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden thinks he may have an answer - creation of a Nuclear Waste Administration, an independent agency separate from the Department of Energy.

It's unusual because it adopts a state and local advise and consent approach to siting facilities rather than the traditional top-down federal mandate approach which scuttled the Nevada Yucca Mountain project after years of political and legal tussling.  Wyden's measure would solicit states and communities to volunteer proposed storage and repository sites. It would require state and local consent to study sites and would require multiple public hearings before studying or proposing sites.

He's gotten support so far from three colleagues - one fellow Democrat and two Republicans.  The measure would strip the nuclear waste management function from the Department of Energy. That provision alone would probably please Washington state officials who have clashed with the Energy Department for decades over its handling of the Hanford clean-up.

Right now, nearly 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel - the hot stuff - is stored at reactor sites throughout the country. But those sites in 34 states including Idaho and Washington were meant to be temporary and they're filling up fast with about 2,000 additional tons of radioactive waste produced each year.
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