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EPRI Study: Yucca Mountain Could Hold Up to Nine Times Design Capacity

The Electric Power Research Institute, known in the industry as EPRI, presented a study yesterday that said that the planned used fuel repository at Yucca Mountain could hold as much as 628,000 tons of used nuclear fuel if the project were expanded and re-designed.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
A reconfigured repository would dwarf the current legal limit of 77,000 tons. The study assumes the repository area could be doubled, and that storage tunnels could be grouped or carved into multiple levels of the mountain.

(snip)

The Yucca study is being performed by the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the utility industry. A preliminary draft is expected to be published in May while analysts continue to delve into the topic, said John Kessler, the institute's high level waste manager.

Kessler told the NRC panel that researchers were conservative in their modeling, and assumed a "hot temperature" repository design, the same being considered by the Energy Department for Yucca Mountain.

DOE already has conducted limited studies on repository expansion, Kessler said. The department's environmental study for Yucca examined a 120,000 ton repository limit.

"We are not starting with a blank slate," Kessler said. "We think there is a good chunk of information available."
As you might imagine, officials in Nevada are already attacking the report:
Marty Malsch, an attorney who represents the state of Nevada in nuclear waste matters, said the capacities detailed in the presentation would position Yucca Mountain "to hold all the nuclear waste in the world."

Malsch questioned whether an expanded repository could comply with the federal nuclear waste law, principally requirements that limit the amount of decaying nuclear materials allowed to seep into groundwater.
I talked with NEI's Yucca Mountain point person, Steve Kraft, and he told me that this response was "typical of the hyperbole we see from Nevada. Nothing about that was said or discussed. He just related the lower end of EPRI's range with the amount of used fuel in storage world wide and drew an incorrect conclusion that supports Nevada's views."

Steve also noticed another factual inaccuracy in the article:
Per Peterson, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said he is skeptical of tiered designs for Yucca Mountain, as well as expanding the repository to a large capacity.

"DOE will be lucky to get together a baseline application for a 60 metric ton per acre repository for submission to NRC by 2008, and while there are maps showing up to 4,200 acres (at the site), only a tiny fraction of this area has been characterized to the level needed to verify that it is suitable for repository use."
Here's what Steve told me about that:

"[H]e incorrectly assumes that Yucca is licensed and then never altered. This is not the case -- the NRC regulation specifically calls for amendments as new information is learned and presented to NRC. There never was an intent for DOE to include the higher capacity numbers in the original License Application, but to deal with the a capacity change in the future."

With new legislation on the Hill, you can expect plenty more on this topic in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned.

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