The United States is faced with a nuclear dilemma. On the one hand, nuclear power seems to be the only significant energy source that is presently capable of meeting the country's electrical energy needs. On the other hand, it is uncertain whether the United States has the technological and managerial capability to make nuclear power reliable and safe. In view of this situation, the United States should begin to develop less dangerous alternatives such as solar power. But development of an efficient solar energy system may require 30 years or more. In the meantime, the United States must learn to live with nuclear power. The only way to deal with the nuclear dilemma in the short run is to reduce the risks and uncertainties associated with nuclear power. Some risks, of course, are inherent and unavoidable, but others can be reduced or eliminated by better planning and the development of new technology. Radioactive waste management is such an area. The risks associated with radioactive waste management are presently much greater than they should be. This is due in part to the failure of the United States to develop an effective and comprehensive program for managing radioactive waste.
This article examines the radioactive waste problem, with particular emphasis on high-level waste. In addition, the article will discuss some of the basic features of a responsible waste management program. It will also suggest how the federal government might begin to formulate such a program.
The intention of the article is to provide lawyers and members of the legal community with certain necessary technical skills and understanding to competently follow and actively take part in waste management debates concerning the continuing nuclear controversy. Because the nuclear industry is, and must be, regulated to ensure safety, lawyers, in creating procedures for decision-making, have played and will continue to play an active role in the field. It is important, therefore, that as lawyers we be able to develop a certain critical level of perspective for this interdisciplinary task.