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Skullduggery 

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There’s something the rest of the country just doesn’t get. Sending 40,000 tons of the nation’s highest-level nuclear waste to the Goshute Indian reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City doesn’t make sense for a host of reasons. The first: It has to be transported across the country to get here. That means it’s going through the back yards of major population centers like Chicago.



Yet, the rest of the nation'particularly states that produce the stuff'see the remote desert of Utah as a perfect solution to their storage problem. The New York Times, demonstrating a remarkable though hardly surprising arrogance, ran a house editorial in September proclaiming it a great idea to store the waste on a reservation in far-off Utah. Remember how during the shameful years of nuclear testing Utah was dismissed as a “low-use segment of the population”? Well, the stereotype still holds strong.



Utah does not use nuclear power, yet we are seen as a solution for states like New York that generate nuclear waste but want it stored far from their own back yards. The Times says Utah’s concerns over safety are “overblown.” Of course they would. Their response would be very different if a consortium of private fuel companies cut a questionable deal to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel rods on an unprotected concrete pad above ground at the former site of the World Trade Center. If fears of safety are overblown and the stuff is so safe, why not leave it where it’s produced?



But let’s return to how the waste will get here. Given the response of state and federal agencies to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, how do you think they might handle a nuclear accident or terrorist incident? As far as I know, there is no good way to clean up radiation once it’s released into the environment. No foam or soapy water can mop it up. And how would you efficiently evacuate communities that would have no advance warning of an accident or terrorist act?



In the nuclear age, it really makes no sense to cling to provincial notions of “Not in My Back Yard.” As a naturalist friend of mine said: “We’re all just blobs of macaroni in one big toxic soup. The entire universe is downwind.”



Nuclear-energy-dependent states that think they can simply ship their radioactive mess to a desert they couldn’t place on a map don’t grasp this concept. It may land in our back yard, but it’s coming through theirs and a lot of others on the way here. Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on those states. Our own senators didn’t see the light until the 11th hour. They thought the solution was Yucca Mountain. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is far more enlightened. He intuitively understood that Yucca didn’t make any more sense than Skull Valley, so he reached out to Nevada to find ways we could stand united against the waste coming West. We owe the governor a debt of gratitude for his keen understanding of the issue. Bennett finally came around to supporting his state instead of his party by withdrawing his support of Yucca Mountain. Bennett now says it makes sense to store the waste on site. Hatch remains a holdout, despite the entreaties of our clear-thinking governor that a strong, united Western front is crucial.



Nevada’s senators are opposing both Yucca Mountain and Skull Valley. It’s time for Hatch to jump on this bandwagon and serve the people he was elected to represent. A solution that involves shipping nuclear fuel rods across the country is no solution at all.

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More by Eric S. Peterson

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