"The government has long maintained that Yucca Mountain is almost certainly a safe waste disposal site because it is geologically inactive," adds Lemonick. "Opponents have just as steadfastly maintained that almost certainly is not good enough." Both sides have produced sound scientific arguments and evidence to buttress their case -- which suggests that Yucca Mountain is not the real issue. "The real issue," says Lemonick, "is the future of nuclear facilities. If no permanent place to store nuclear waste is found, these facilities will have to be shut down." That is ultimately the aim of the activists, and a prospect the government is not prepared to accept. This impasse is likely to become the nuclear Cold War of the next decade.
After more than $2 billion and a decade of study, the Energy Department gave an amber light on Friday to proceed with the development of an underground nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert. The department cautioned that some issues still need to be resolved before a final decision is reached in 2001. "The report indicates that Yucca Mountain will be the site," says TIME science writer Michael Lemonick, "but now get ready for years of litigation from anti-nuclear activists."