The Department of Energy has made a mess of the national effort to choose a site for permanent disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste, including spent fuel from nuclear-power plants. There is no public confidence in the plan that the department is attempting to implement but has bungled at virtually every step. It is time to stop the process and review it carefully.
Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Interior Committee, has a sensible proposal to do just that. Saying that "the program is in ruins," Udall and 55 other House members, both Republicans and Democrats, are sponsoring HR 2888 to suspend site-selection activities for 18 months. During that period a special independent commission would review the process and report back to Congress on how it might be improved.
A rival plan comes from Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Johnston has proposed an overhauling of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and has attached it by amendment to a budget reconciliation measure. The Johnston plan would increase federal monetary incentives to states that would be willing to accept the nuclear-waste dump. The plan would streamline the process by selecting one site by Jan. 1, 1989, and beginning geologic studies there rather than at the three sites now being considered--in Nevada, Washington state and Texas. The search for a second site would be postponed until the year 2110.