There is nothing like an undeniable catastrophe to focus attention on the proper way to respond to risk—especially that most elusive form of risk, which involves low frequency and high severity occurrences. Never has that been truer than with the one-two punch that just hit Japan—a huge earthquake (8.9 on the Richter scale) followed by a tsunami of equally stupendous proportions. Right in the line of fire was the 1971 Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which has teetered on the brink of a meltdown for over a week now. In the United States, the visceral response has been to boost the always strong, if sometimes latent, categorical opposition to nuclear power.
So powerful has that movement against nuclear power been that no new nuclear plant has been commissioned since the incident at Three Mile Island in 1978, which means that our aging nuclear plants remain active as their useful lives are extended with various repairs and upgrades. But that still leaves them far inferior to any new plant that could be put into service today. At the same time, the United States dithers on the designation and construction of any new site to deal with the growing risk of spent nuclear fuel (SNF), which is generated in ever-larger quantities, but remains stored in inferior facilities located onsite, near the nuclear facilities that have generated these rods.