Monday, March 29, 1999

Storage of nuclear
weapons waste

Bullet The issue: Waste from nuclear weapons plants must be safely stored.
Bullet Our view: The New Mexico storage facility solves the problem.

HISTORY of sorts was made when the first load of radioactive waste material arrived at the national storage facility at Carlsbad, N.M. It was the start in earnest of the effort to safely store waste from the nation's nuclear weapons research and production facilities. Thousands of such shipments are to follow. The delivery followed 25 years of studies, protests and lawsuits. Last week the way for the shipment was finally cleared when an appellate court in Washington, D.C., and a federal judge in Santa Fe rejected last-minute appeals.

A tractor-trailer transported the 600 pounds of waste, in three large stainless steel containers, from Los Alamos National Laboratory, 270 miles away. It was comprised of such items as protective clothing, cleaning rags, tools, plastic covers and metal cans contaminated with plutonium.

The final destination was a vast underground repository carved out of salt caverns. About 37,000 shipments are planned that will eventually fill the repository's storage rooms.

The need to safely store nuclear waste is undisputed. What have been disputed are the safety of the storage methods and the sites of the repositories. It is gratifying that after decades of controversy action is finally being taken.

Similar action is needed to deal with wastes generated by commercial nuclear power plants in 35 states. Congress has designated a permanent waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. However, that site has encountered safety and environmental problems that are expected to delay its opening until 2010, if not longer.

In the meantime, many lawmakers are supporting legislation to create a temporary storage facility at the nearby Nevada nuclear test site.

As a representative of New Mexico in the U.S. House, Bill Richardson won additional safety features for the Carlsbad facility. Now as energy secretary he has to deal with a host of difficult issues relating to nuclear energy, including the Yucca Mountain storage site. It will take all of Richardson's skill as a negotiator -- honed in winning the release of prisoners in Iraq, Burma and North Korea -- to deal successfully with these issues. But it simply has to happen. The nuclear waste has to be stored safely -- somewhere and soon.


Tiananmen Square

Bullet The issue: Whether Chinese leaders should admit they made a mistake in using troops to subdue protesters
Bullet Our view: They should but they won't.

THE only senior Communist Party official jailed in the crackdown that ended the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations has urged Chinese leaders to admit they made a mistake using troops to subdue the unarmed protesters.A letter from the official, Bao Tong, warned current party leaders that their failure to address grievances had created a legacy of bloodshed and fueled resentment. His letter was written ahead of the 10th anniversary of the student-led demonstrations and the army's intervention that killed hundreds on June 4, 1989. Although China's leaders hope the anniversary will pass uneventfully, they are not likely to assuage feelings by admitting they make a mistake.

Probably indicative of the leaders' attitude was the reaction of President Jiang Zemin when confronted by demonstrators in Bern, Switzerland, who shouted "Free Tibet" on his arrival at Parliament. In a speech to the legislators, Jiang said, "You have lost a good friend. I have been president of the People's Republic of China for 10 years and have visited many countries in this capacity. Everywhere else I have been received warmly." That doesn't sound like a man who is about to admit a mistake.


Mandela’s farewell

Bullet The issue: How to bring an orderly and peaceful end to South Africa's system of racial segregation
Bullet Our view: Nelson Mandela's wise leadership prevented a bloodbath.

NELSON Mandela is stepping down later this year as president of South Africa after a lifetime devoted to ending the apartheid system of racial segregation and then leading the nation's first multiracial government for five years.

National elections will be held June 2, but Mandela bade farewell Friday to the South African Parliament in its last session before the elections. He received a standing ovation.

The 80-year-old president told the lawmakers that all political parties had worked hard to overcome the racial divisions left by colonialism and apartheid.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the white supremacist government but immediately reassumed the leadership of the anti-apartheid movement upon his release. He was elected president in 1994 in South Africa's first all-race elections, which abolished apartheid. Rather than seek revenge, he preached forgiveness and tolerance, and emerged as a symbol of racial reconciliation.

South Africa is fortunate that the anti-apartheid movement was led by a man of such stature. A lesser leader might have plunged the nation into a bloodbath.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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