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Sproat: Yucca Mountain Needs to Be "Built Fast"

Lisa Mascaro of the Las Vegas Sun took a tour of Yucca Mountain with new project head Ward Sproat, and had some interesting things to say:
Five minutes with Sproat and you begin to see why the Energy Department chose him. He tells you plainly and succinctly what he knows. Then he says just as clearly what it is he doesn't yet know. It's straight talk, the kind that inspires confidence: If he can run nuclear power plants for private industry, as he has for years, he can puff life into this gasping project.

[...]

More than anything, the tunnel feels like a driveway to a house that has yet to be built. The waste is to be set in 42 miles of storage space branching off from the tunnel. Digging it could take decades.

Sproat worries about such a prolonged building program. Yucca Mountain should be built fast, he said, as soon as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives the project a green light - now pegged at 2011.

Also, he sees the construction challenges as less daunting than the job of fixing a management culture that has allowed sloppy documentation.
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Comments

David Phillips said…
Interesting piece on the challenges of developing a deep geological repository for nuclear waste.

On the isle of Anglesey, off North Wales, the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) owned site at Wylfa is set to cease generation in 2010.

The decommissioning process of the last Magnox reactor in Britain will then start, first with defuelling then site clear up from about 2012-13.

Colleagues can contribute to the current debate going on as to what should happen to this site in the future. This is part of the NDA's End Uses and End States strategy.

Please go to the questionnaire and leave helpful and practical comments and then vote. Open to all, you just have to say where you're from.

See http://www.anglesey-today.com/wylfa.html and click on questionnaire.

Please share this information with others who could make a timely contribution. Deadline for vote and comments is 20 September 2006.
Dezakin said…
Except there's no need for a geologic repository of waste at all.

Dry storage works fine for several centuries, and its fairly easy to imagine that there will be a market for the fuel in reprocessing regimes by then. A geologic repository is a technical solution to a political problem.
Michael Stuart said…
While reprocessing will significantly reduce the amount of waste, there is still most certainly a need for a geologic repository. And, if reprocessing is utilized to its potential, then Yucca Mountain is the only geologic repository we'll ever need.
Rod Adams said…
Michael:

Though we agree on many things, I do not agree that we need to spend billions of dollars on digging holes in the Nevada desert. The material is safe where it is.

Maybe someday in the very distant future there will be a need to do something more permanent with the left overs from nuclear fission plant operation, but I think we have not even begun to think about all of the potential uses for the rare materials that are produced by breaking heavy metals.

The stuff just does not take up much space and it certainly does not cost much - compared to the value of the energy produced - to put it into a container and watch it for the foreseeable future.

Yucca is a waste of money unless you are a cost-plus contractor.

I know that some in the industry think we need unanimity on this issue, but I think that what we need is an understanding that the "waste issue" is not the real problem. The real problem is that we have allowed and encouraged people that do not like nuclear power to use a non issue to constipate the industry for far too long.
Brian Mays said…
Whether it is right or wrong, unless something is done, this "non issue" will remain a problem -- if for no other reason than people psychologically need closure. They like to have the feeling that something is finished, whether it is up a smokestack and into the atmosphere or buried deep in the ground. Whatever the case, it is no longer sitting around making people feel uneasy. I just don't think that an answer of "we'll keep an eye on it and think about it tomorrow" is going to cut it in the long run.

Besides, if the rare materials resulting from fission do turn out to be useful in the future, then all is not lost if Yucca Mountain goes ahead. If we discover a use for them in the near future, then Yucca Mountain will still be open, and we can haul the stuff out. If it is later than that, well, by then there should be plenty more nuclear power plants worldwide producing more of the stuff. Otherwise, there's no point in even talking about reprocessing; let's just bury the stuff and be done with it. Return it to the ground, where it came from.

I understand what you are saying, Rod, and technically you're correct. However, this is more than a technical issue.
GingerMary said…
A good analogy, nuclear waste and psychology. The difference is that nuclear waste is something you can bury and emotions are something which must be dealt with otherwise they will come back to haunt you. Or is nuclear waste the same? Is it not just something, like everything else, that the world tries to bury deep, knowing all the time that you cannot bury something so powerful? And why should people not feel uneasy? If you cannot take the heat stay out of the kitchen? If you cannot deal with emotions don’t live, breath. Just bury them – and think you are ok. If you cannot deal responsibly with nuclear waste don’t have reactors. Take all the money you use building them and look into alternatives for renewable energy.

And unlike nuclear waste, some things, once you have buried them, can never be hauled out, dusted off and used again. I suppose the analogy was wrong. Psychology and nuclear are not the same. You are dealing with people, not waste. And there lies all the difference. Unless you regard people as waste to be buried…

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