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Overwhelming Obstacles

Originally planned to open as a permanent nuclear-waste repository in 1998, Yucca Mountain is now scheduled for a 2010 opening, although few experts outside of the DOE think that date is remotely plausible. The problem, as a 2001 National Research Council report put it, is not technical but societal, which could be the mantra of nuclear-waste disposal. The project, said the council, has been haunted by a “clear lack of public confidence and support,” and for good reason: “Difficulties in achieving public support have been seriously underestimated in the past, and opportunities to increase public involvement and to gain public trust have been missed.” In other words, the disposal of high-level nuclear waste is a problem that, while technical in nature, cannot be understood out of the context of its own political history and the societal attitudes that have evolved as a response.

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