Conclusion

Nuclear waste has become a singular impediment to the mid-twentieth century promise of cheap, emission-free electricity to transform the world. While several nations ship radioactive waste to others for reprocessing, concern over loss of control over the waste products from this secondary processing led the U.S. toward a decision to establish a permanent and secure repository. The construction of the repository has been excruciatingly slow, due to technical problems, political opposition, and a measure of questionable work performance.

It is not unreasonable to assume that for the life of post-consumption nuclear waste, human nature will remain more or less unchanged. Therefore, we can expect most of these problems to persist into the far future. If this is so, what type of knowledge might contribute to the most positive outcomes? The newly developing field of complexity studies, the study of informatics, and new models of decision making each offers relevant public policy enhancements that can be recommended from a public management perspective.

On the technical side, capacity, environmental hazards, and safety-in-tran-sportation questions remain. The capacity issue is directly linked to energy consumption and conservation, topics that historically seem particularly subject to whims of policy fashion and the price of fossil fuels. Perhaps persistent high prices, combined with the bugaboo of global warming, will keep this perennially on the table. Some argue that spent fuel cask construction trumps the environmental hazard question—that is, an impermeable cask reduces the need for an impermeable site. This is the Pandora's Box model, and let us hope no one ever opens the box. The third topic, transportation, struggles with competing forces regarding primary use, capacity, inter-sector and intergovernmental oversight, and encroachment on right-of-way.

Perhaps there are more questions than answers when we reflect on the issue of managing nuclear waste. Some of these time and money may address, while others may be outright unanswerable. However, the industrialized world continues, hour by hour, to produce this waste. So long as current processes do not result in massive loss of life or widespread ecological calamity, this appears to be acceptable.

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