George Will

     This not notably decorous state rests on what it decorously calls ``gaming,'' an industry that prospers from people not understanding risks with thrown dice or shuffled cards. Risk assessment tests rationality and Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant former mob lawyer and current mayor of Las Vegas, is flunking the test when he promises to block any truck passing through his city carrying nuclear waste. Well.

      Union Pacific freight trains rumble less than a half a mile behind many of the 75,000 hotel rooms on The Strip. Some tank cars contain chlorine gas and other hazardous materials. An industrial society uses, and hence transports, vast quantities of them, weighing their benefits against their risks, and trying to reduce the latter.

     Mayor Goodman, relax: Very little nuclear waste will come to Yucca Mountain by truck. Most will come by rail, on a line not yet built, that will loop far around the metropolitan area's 1.6 million residents. In the last 40 years more than 2,700 shipments of spent nuclear fuel have been transported more than 1.6 million miles. Four highway and four railway vehicles were involved in accidents, but no container of nuclear materials failed.

     Las Vegas is farther from this mountain than 161 million Americans are from 125 nuclear waste storage facilities in 39 states. These facilities are much less secure than Yucca Mountain would be, with the material 1,000 feet below ground, and the mountain located next to the Nuclear Emergency Support Team stationed at Nellis.

     The nation should generate much more than the one-fifth of its electricity currently produced by nuclear power. Forty percent of the Navy is nuclear-powered. More nuclear waste is produced every day.

     Nevada has two tactics. It is insisting on a degree of certainty -- absolute certainty, over 100 millennia -- that is unreasonable, even considering the stakes. And it is making testable assertions about geological and metallurgical matters about which scientists are now reaching conclusions that are beyond reasonable doubts.

     Three truths: America must store nuclear waste more safely, can never prove perfect safety forever, and hence cannot store waste anywhere it will be welcomed. An axiom: Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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