Hugh Pickens writes: "The Associated Press reports that the companies that own almost half the nation's nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough money to dismantle the reactors so many plants may sit idle for decades posing safety and security risks as a result. The shortfalls in funding have been caused by huge losses in the stock market that have devastated the companies' savings and by the soaring costs of decommissioning. Owners of 19 nuclear plants have won approval to idle their reactors for as long as 60 years, presumably enough time to allow investments to recover and eventually pay for dismantling the plants and removing radioactive material. But mothballing nuclear reactors or shutting them down inadequately presents the risk that radioactive waste could leak from abandoned plants into ground water or be released into the air, and spent nuclear fuel rods could be stolen by terrorists. "No one at the NRC wants to acknowledge what is absolutely obvious to us, that the funds are inadequate and that the industry has bare assets," said Arnold Gundersen, a retired nuclear engineer and decommissioning expert. The NRC has contacted 18 nuclear power plants to clarify how the companies will address the recent economic downturn's effects on funds to decommission reactors in the future but some analysts worry the utility companies that own nuclear plants might not even exist in six decades. "Our concern is that they'll just walk away from it," said Jim Riccio, a Greenpeace nuclear policy analyst. "It's like a sitting time bomb. The notion that you can just walk away from these sites and everything will be hunky-dory is just not true.""