What New Mexico can teach us about storing nuclear waste

courtesy of Patricia Leyba
Washington PostThe nation’s nuclear waste is piling up. The proposed storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain has been nixed — possibly for good. And the problem is only growing more acute: On Friday, a D.C. federal appeals court ruled that the current strategy of keeping waste on-site at power plants around the country may not be viable. So what can the United States do instead? One place to look for inspiration might be out in the New Mexico desert. At least, that was the suggestion from Allison MacFarlane, President Obama’s nominee to head up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, MacFarlane was grilled by senators about her views on how best to dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste. As a possible model for future repositories, she pointed to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., which opened in 1999 and now handles the radioactive leftovers from U.S. defense facilities. Any long-term storage facility for nuclear waste will have to overcome local unease and opposition — that’s what’s bogged down Yucca Mountain, after all. But Carlsbad’s $2.5-billion plant was actually welcomed by local residents, who were worried about what would happen to the area’s economy once its potash mines ran out. As Roger Nelson of the Energy Department’s Carlsbad office told me, Carlsbad’s residents managed to lobby wary state legislators in New Mexico to drop their opposition. Since the plant opened, the small desert town of 27,000 has been teeming with high-tech jobs. Read More News New Mexico



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