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Published: Friday, 9/21/2012

Nuclear quagmire

Congress needs to halt the nation's buildup of highly radioactive spent nuclear-reactor fuel. It must settle, once and for all, the issue of finding a permanent, central repository site for nuclear waste.

In June, a federal appeals court told the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission it cannot maintain a rule that allows waste to remain on site 60 years after plants shut down, instead of the previous 30. The NRC adopted that "waste confidence" rule in 2010, in response to the Obama Administration's decision to eliminate Nevada's Yucca Mountain from consideration as the sole federal waste repository.

The NRC recently told its staff to stop issuing licenses for new nuclear reactors or renewals of existing facilities until further notice. That edit could affect FirstEnergy Corp.'s application to renew the operating license of its Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, and DTE Energy's application to build a Fermi 3 nuclear plant in southeast Michigan.

The NRC's decision to take a time-out on licensing appears to be a wake-up call. The order pertains only to final paperwork; it does not apply to construction licenses the agency already has granted, or to the 73 of the nation's 104 commercial nuclear plants that have had their licenses renewed for 20 years.

President Obama claims to support nuclear power, yet has hurt its chances of a revival by shuttering Yucca Mountain. His recent appointment of Allison Macfarlane as NRC chairman may indicate a willingness to compromise.

Ms. Macfarlane is the first geologist to serve on a commission the Obama Administration put together to examine America's nuclear future. She believes a permanent repository is doable.

Northwest Ohio is affected by the radioactive waste dilemma even if a repository is built somewhere other than Yucca Mountain. Much existing waste is generated in the Northeast, and would likely pass through the region by rail or along the Ohio Turnpike.

Waste needs to get moved out of spent-fuel pools to enhance public safety. Fallout from the 2011 Fukushima disaster could have been much worse if spent-fuel pools in Japan were loaded with as much waste as they are here.

More waste will need to be stored in dry-cask vaults if Congress ducks a long-term solution much longer. That is a potentially dangerous fallback. The Obama Administration and lawmakers cannot keep ducking the issue in the name of not-in-my-back-yard politics.



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