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Uncle Sam's Nuclear Bill

Revelling in the federal budget surplus, the White House and Congress broke their agreed spending-cap limits by classifying many items as "emergency" spending. Some were. Some weren't.

Now a real budget-busting emergency looms. It could eventually cost more than $50 billion. The cause: Energy Department failure to complete a national nuclear disposal site on time.

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The US Court of Federal Claims has ruled that Energy should pay owners of the small, shut-down Yankee Rowe power plant $70 million in damages for not accepting the plant's still-lethal spent fuel rods. Further suits by giant utilities are pending.

Not in my back yard is the generic problem. Community leaders and environmental groups in Nevada have stymied federal efforts to complete the Yucca Mountain disposal site. Proposals to add the spent fuel to existing federal sites in South Carolina and Idaho have also stirred resistance.

Like it or not, the Clinton administration will have to push to get a safe disposal site finished. America can't risk having 30,000 tons of spent fuel stashed in hundreds of nuclear plants not equipped to be final storage sites. And it shouldn't add tens of billions in damage penalties for inaction.

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