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Slow-moving feds delay local nuke cleanup

(Editor's note: John Bonfatti wrote this post last week. Bonfatti died overnight Thursday.)

John F. Bonfatti writes about environmental issues for The News. Today he fills us in on a slow-moving project out west that will delay the cleanup of nuclear waste at West Valley.

Bonfatti It's called Yucca Mountain but it's more of a ridge, stretching for nearly five miles in the barren desert, not far from where the government conducted numerous nuclear bomb tests.

The potential of nuclear energy was demonstrated here. The answer to its chief pitfall -- what to do with the deadly waste it generates -- will also be located here, if the federal government has its way.

The government has already spent $9 billion to burrow the tunnels that are being used to try to test whether the proposed long-range nuclear waste repository will safely protect waste that will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.

It was originally supposed to open 10 years ago, but has still not been given final approval.

The earliest date it could possibly open now is 2020 -- and that's probably optimistic, given the deep opposition to it in the state in which its located, Nevada.

As part of a deal it made with the utilities to build a repository, the government agreed to pay the generators of the waste between $300 million and $500 million a year if it wasn't open by 1998. That account remains open as long as there's no repository.

A few weeks ago, the government announced the cost of building and operating Yucca Mountain for 100 years would be $90 billion -- $19 billion more than an estimate made last year.

What's at stake for Western New York?

The high-level waste from the West Valley Demonstration Project is destined for the facility. If it's not built, that waste will almost certainly remain on site in Cattaraugus County.

Nuclear plants don't produce the carbon-based pollution of coal and gas-fired electricity plants do, so some energy analysts believe the country may soon have no choice but to add more nuclear power to our energy profile because.

But the saga of Yucca Mountain shows nuclear plants have their own pollution issues -- and that's not even considering the environmental impacts of accidents like the ones at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Should we be looking at producing more nuclear energy, which now accounts for 20 percent of the U.S. needs? If so, what should we do with the waste?

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