Could nuke waste policy be turning around?

It seems hard to believe, but Congress may finally be turning away from the dead-end strategy of storing nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain and toward the far more sensical approach of figuring out how to recycle the waste into something useful.

Such a shift in thinking would range far beyond the environmental concerns of Nevadans, since it would reverse the philosophy guiding U.S. policy since Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were in the White House. Yucca Mountain storage has been studied for two decades, at a cost of billions of dollars, because of worries that recycling nuclear waste would contribute to proliferation of radioactive materials used in bombs.

Times have changed since then - though not necessarily for the better, when it comes to nuclear proliferation. Terrorism and the threat of rogue nations joining the nuclear ranks remain great risks.

Nuclear waste continues to pile up an plants across the country, compounding the security risks. But the notion of storing it in one "safe" underground facility - by shipping it across the country every day from dozens of sites in hundreds of trucks and rail cars - is a shortsighted solution. In fact, it's no solution at all.

That's why we're encouraged by a 2006 nuclear-waste budget that includes $50 million for spent-fuel recycling. Of that, $20 million is for communities to compete to host a recycling plant, and $30 million is for research.

It's still a paltry sum in comparison with the $450 million for the year for Yucca Mountain. Yet it's a step in the right direction.

The goal of the United States and every nation producing nuclear power must be to reduce the amount of waste, and the best way to do that is find safe and economical ways to recycle it into practical uses.

When the budget priorities are reversed - $50 million for storage, $450 million for recycling - we'll know U.S. nuclear policy is on a sensible track.


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