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Book Review

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by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & America's Nuclear Wastelands & r & by Max S. Power & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne bit of news caught my eye last week: the U.S. Department of Energy has applied for a license to build an underground nuclear waste repository near Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It's the latest step in the generation-long process of trying to find a solution to America's difficult and complex nuclear waste problem.





It was 1986 -- 22 years ago -- when the department first picked Yucca Mountain over Hanford and a site in Texas as the most suitable place for the facility, where treated waste will be isolated for thousands of years. The glacial pace of creating a repository -- just one piece of the nuclear waste puzzle -- shows the political heat of this issue.





Max Power, a political consultant who has spent much of his career working on Northwest nuclear waste issues, gives an insider's perspective into some of the battles -- states against the federal government, states versus states -- that were fought to determine where that political and environmental dynamite would go.





Power also relates the story of how events of the day -- the Three Mile Island scare and the Chernobyl nuclear accident, among them -- built public interest in nuclear issues to such a point that the federal government finally relented and opened up about years of nuclear weapons production. In the late 1980s, when the Department of Energy released nearly 20,000 pages of documents that detailed Hanford airborne radiation releases in the 1940s and '50s, it brought even more pressure upon itself.





"The public's perception of risk differs from that of experts in the nuclear field," writes Power. "Perceptions ... generate a great deal of conflict and consternation."





When the government became more open in its dealings with the public, says Power, progress began to be made on important issues, such as how to clean up toxic messes at Hanford. He tells some of the success stories and touches on some of the challenges that are left.





While it isn't particularly easy to read and its black-and-white photographs are sometimes awful, Powers' book is useful in that it provides readers with some insight into important bits of Northwest history.