Friday, January 18, 2008

Sproat ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About 2008 Yucca License Application Despite Budget Cuts

The following is an early release of a story that's scheduled to run in the Monday, January 21 edition of Nuclear Energy Overview, NEI's members only publication. It was written by my NEI colleague, Rich Bickers:

The Energy Department’s director of radioactive waste management last week told Nevada legislators and the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board that a 2008 license application for the Yucca Mountain repository is still possible, even though the agency continues to evaluate the impact of a more than $100 million reduction in the repository program’s 2008 budget.

The projected 2017 opening date for the repository, however, is no longer achievable, Ward Sproat, director of DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, told the Nevada State Legislative Committee and the review board at meetings last week in Nevada. Sproat said DOE expects to decide on a new projected opening date sometime this spring.

Sproat said that the license application process was still on schedule as of Jan. 1 and that, although the scheduled June submittal is uncertain, he is “cautiously optimistic” that a license application can be submitted this year. The agency in December completed the repository and surface facility design work necessary for completion of the license application, he said. But Sproat said he cannot be certain of a submittal this year until the agency completes an evaluation currently under way to determine the effects of the budget cut.

“I cannot stand behind the June ’08 date until the evaluation is done,” he said.

The department also is developing a “layman’s version” of the Yucca Mountain application to help the public better understand the process, Sproat said. DOE will issue the public-friendly version when it submits the license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Construction on the Nevada rail lines that will serve Yucca Mountain—scheduled to start in October 2009—will be delayed at least two years as a result of the existing funding shortfall.

During the remainder of the daylong review board meeting, DOE scientists described the project’s latest analytical results, previewing some of the work that will make up the license application.

“It is encouraging to see the extent to which the scientific and technical effort has progressed,” said Rod McCullum, NEI’s director for the Yucca Mountain project. “Industry now expects the department to focus its resources and finish compiling this work into a high-quality license application. And submitting that application to the NRC so that the licensing process—in which the ultimate safety of the repository can be objectively and rigorously assessed—can begin.”

5 comments:

Doug said...

I have mixed feelings about it. We need a safe place to store waste, and Yucca is an excellent location. On the other hand, it's incredibly wasteful for us to treat all the unburnt fuel as "waste". We need to reprocess spent fuel before sending the true waste to Yucca. It would reduce the volume of waste material, reduce the average half-life to a much shorter time period, and it would increase the nuclear fuel supply.

Anonymous said...

Reprocessing may reduce HLW volume, but it does not necessarily result in a commensurate reduction in repository space required. The vitrified HLW from reprocessing is much hotter (thermally) than SNF, requiring the same amount of repository space or maybe even more, according to some estimates.

And since recycled Pu can only be run through LWRs 2 or 3 times at most before its isotopics prevent further MOX fuel use, something must ultimately be done with the MOX SNF. ie, send it to Yucca.

Anonymous said...

Waste partitioning alone will not solve the volume problem, as capacity is limited by heat load from actinide decay. You need to combine partitioning with actinide recycle to achieve a real reduction in required storage volume. All possible and achievable with available technology, if only we have the will to use it.

Kirk Sorensen said...

Cancelling Yucca will force the US to get serious about spent nuclear fuel in a hurry. That could be a very good thing if done right.

My modest proposal:

1. Shut down Yucca and devote the funding in the waste fund to the development of liquid-chloride and liquid-fluoride reactors. Chloride reactors would be used to destroy transuranics and breed U233 from thorium. Fluoride reactors would start with U233 and thereafter consume only thorium without producing transuranics.

2. Fluorinate spent nuclear fuel currently in storage. Remove uranium through further fluorination (from UF4 to UF6) and either send it for re-enrichment or convert it to UO2 for low-level disposal. Remove transuranics from the fluoride mixture by reduction with aluminum metal, which was recently demonstrated by French research to effectively separate TRU-fluorides from fission product fluorides.

3. Send fission product fluorides to a monitored storage site for ~300 years until they decay to background levels of radiation.

4. Convert metallic TRUs (obtained by reduction) to TRU-chlorides and destroy them through fission in a chloride reactor. Chloride reactors are capable of very hard spectrums and have inherent safety features not found in solid-core fast reactors.

5. Breed U233 from thorium during the destruction of TRUs in the chloride reactor and use them to start thermal-spectrum, fluoride reactors that use thorium as an essentially unlimited energy supply.

Such a scheme would destroy long-lived waste while transitioning to a fuel source (thorium) that does not produce the transuranics in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Recycling can eliminate the need for multiple repositories, but there will be residual wastes that still require long-term isolation in a geologic repository. Furthermore, the U.S. has defense high level wastes that require disposal. The Democrats campaigning in Nevada have said that "the science is not there," but when they held Senate hearings on Yucca they did not invite a single scientist to speak. Congress needs to make sure that DOE and NRC get the funding needed (from the fees nuclear energy consumers pay) to complete and review the license application--that will determine what the real science says. The problem is not with the science, but with our policy for how to use Yucca Mountain--why fill it with spent fuel when the next step is likely to just take it back out?