The Department of Energy’s May 15 announcement that it would start accepting nuclear waste from 41 foreign countries is one of the most arrogant and shortsighted political decisions of recent times. The United States should not become a global landfill for nuclear waste.
During the last 40 years the United States has sent nuclear fuel to Europe, with lesser amounts going to Australia, Asia and South America. The fuel was used for medical and research purposes. Now that the waste is piling up, these countries want the United States to take it back. These countries reaped the rewards, through jobs and medical advancements, but want us to clean up after them. Wouldn’t everyone like such a generous life — all of the goods and none of the grimness?
The energy agency wants to bring 20 metric tons of the waste into the United States. The bulk of the waste would go to the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., for indefinite storage and the rest to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. The energy agency plans to spend millions to improve the packaging and storage of this waste. But this money should be spent on helping improve the packing and storage of U.S. generated waste, not foreign garbage.
Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary released a statement that said, “The policy demonstrates the Clinton administration’s leadership in reducing the global nuclear threat by removing nuclear bomb material from civilian commerce.” U.S. concern is purportedly centered around the fear that these countries will sell the material for bombs or make bombs themselves. But somebody needs to explain to O’Leary that this stuff isn’t bomb material until it goes through reprocessing; right now it is unstable garbage. O’Leary’s flawed assumptions and misguided logic endangers the quality of life in the United States.
Lest the powers that be in Washington have forgotten the reaction of citizens to outsider’s garbage, we would like to refresh their collective memory by recalling the tale of the homeless garbage scow from Islip, Long Island. In 1987, city after city refused the trash from New York, saying, in essence, “Not in our backyard.” The garbage was composed mostly of cardboard and paper products commercially generated here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., yet six cities and three other countries sent the barge packing. North Carolinian’s said, ‘No way’ and the scow continued its three-month, 6,000-mile odyssey to nowhere.
The garbage eventually wound up back in New York and was disposed of there, but the message from community to community and country to country was clear and hasn’t changed: Everyone has to discard their own garbage in their own backyard.
To subject taxpayers to another extravagant misspending of precious tax dollars in order to curry world favor — at a time when American prestige is at near-record lows worldwide — is a fool’s course, especially in a presidential election year. Washington, the energy agency and O’Leary need to wake up and hear the roar of the crowd. If Americans didn’t want New York’s used paper bags, we doubt they’ll put up with becoming a global nuclear garbage dump.