The nuclear industry has been besieged for years. The battles have raged on both local and national stages. Some of the industry’s wounds have been self-inflicted, but others have been based on emotion and fear and not scientific fact. This month, Wendell Weart, Norbert Rempe, and Dennis Powers give an eyewitness account of a nuclear success story, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), our nation’s — and the world’s -- first deep geologic repository for long-lived radioactive waste.
The opening of the WIPP later this year will mark the end of a long, convoluted search for a nuclear waste repository. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, the nuclear program has been scrutinized intensely. What scientists involved with these projects soon realized was that siting a nuclear waste dump is not based on technical fact alone. Community conscience and will are also critical elements. Fifteen years of serious searching led the technical team to the northern Delaware Basin, east of Carlsbad, New Mexico — a site that met both the technical and political requirements. It took an additional 25 years of testing, development, and construction to produce the WIPP.
As principal scientists with the project, Weart, Rempe, and Powers have been active with the WIPP for more than 20 years. Each has helped develop and test the technical specifications of the site. And, each has witnessed the diplomacy required to inform local residents, state legislators, and Congress of its operations. It is a fascinating story with lessons for all of us.
Our second feature describes the remarkable new Sloan Career Cornerstone Series, guided and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Recognizing that very little information is available about industrial careers in science and engineering, the Sloan Foundation contacted 11 societies and organizations, representing nine scientific and engineering fields. Each was asked to focus on the essential, real-world aspects of their disciplines and to produce a videotape, CD-ROM, and a website. The American Geological Institute was among the participants; this fall their products, describing a variety of geoscience career options, are available to students, career counselors, and other users. Sloan Program Director Frank Mayadas writes that the goal of the Sloan series is to give the curious student solid facts about what scientists and engineers really do in the workplace.
Our third feature focuses on an important and very interesting chapter in geoscience research and its effect on data organization. Fred Stoss, biology sciences librarian at the State University of New York in Buffalo, describes the events leading up to the 1957 International Geophysical Year (IGY). The research conducted during the IGY showed remarkable cooperation between agencies and nations. An enormous amount of scientific data was generated during that year, and scientists had to develop a means to organize it. What resulted was an extensive array of World Data Centers. Now, more than 50 of these centers exist around the globe. They’ve grown in complexity but maintain the cooperative spirit of that extraordinary year. The list accompanying the article will provide a handy reference for you and your colleagues.
And finally, a last word about our first word — this month’s “Comment” focuses on a topic important to all of us: water. Access to fresh water allows communities to develop. Knowledge of the behavior of water allows these same communities to thrive. In areas of abundant water, we tend to forget its importance. Combine that complacency with limited local budgets and we are in the process of losing valuable information on national water flow. Elmer Cleaves, state geologist of Maryland, writing on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists, relates how some local and state legislators are shutting down important stream-gaging stations. Cleaves calls for federal support to continue these stations, which provide valuable data about a resource so vital to all of us.
Victor V. van Beuren