Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tell It on the Mountain

nevada.yucca.mountain Yucca Mountain, that is, which has been getting something of a rough treatment lately. Fears about storing tons of used nuclear fuel there have been unfounded, and though the Department of Energy has submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency for the big brown mound, political support for it has drained away a bit. The end of the tale is not yet written, of course, and what wanes can also wax.

So it is heartening to see some editorials emerging that explicitly supports Yucca Mountain. This one comes from the Daily News, “serving the lower Columbia,” meaning Washington state:

Senate leaders, in particular, have shown a determination to block the construction of a national repository for nuclear waste near Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Last week, a Senate panel cut the administration’s fiscal 2009 budget request for the project from $494.7 million to $386.5 million. If the lower figure holds, it will mark the second straight year that Congress has sliced more than $100 million from the Yucca Mountain budget. And, given Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support of the cut, it likely will hold.

Senator Reid, in most respects a strong supporter of nuclear energy, takes his political cues from his constituents in Nevada and in Reid’s view, they don’t want Yucca Mountain.

The government’s promotion of more nuclear power is on a collision course with Congress’ failure to move forward on the construction of the waste dump in a more timely manner. As a practical matter, members must know that there can be no revival of the U.S. nuclear industry until and unless the completion of this project is assured.

The editorial is entitled “Yucca Mountain stalling only delays inevitable nuclear power push,” and we like (and agree with) that word “inevitable”. Congress is looking at ways to complement Yucca Mountain as a storage repository, so we’ll refrain from wholeheartedly endorsing the “stalls” part. But it’s an on-target editorial.

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Well, (at least today – as far as we can tell), we know John McCain is in favor of Yucca Mountain and Barack Obama against it. How is that playing in Nevada? According to SurveyUSA, McCain is leading by four points (45-41). That’s within the margin of error and really suggests nothing other than that Nevadans are not single issue voters. (Bush took the state by three points in 2004.) For all the passion the Nevada delegation puts behind blocking Yucca Mountain, the issue does not create a decisive shift in votes nor even move the needle much.

Map might be a little hard to read. Yucca Mountain is that dot north of Las Vegas. If you find your way from a hangover and ill-advised marriage in Vegas to the inevitable divorce in Reno, by all means wave at Yucca Mountain en route.

5 comments:

Kirk Sorensen said...

The best thing for the future would be to break the connection between nuclear energy and Yucca Mountain. Problem is, the light-water reactor can't do it.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see if a President Obama would withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain, when it is now starting independent scientific review by the NRC. That would look a lot like cutting off U.S. participation in the International Panel on Climate Change -- it would imply a belief that the scientific consensus is not likely to agree with one's preferred politics.

For Kirk, thorium is great, but one still needs a repository. Thorium advocates need to be careful to not overpromise. The problem is not with Yucca Mountain, but with our policy for how to use it.

Kirk Sorensen said...

For Kirk, thorium is great, but one still needs a repository. Thorium advocates need to be careful to not overpromise. The problem is not with Yucca Mountain, but with our policy for how to use it.

No, thorium doesn't need a repository, because like all the other actinides in a liquid-fluoride reactor, thorium doesn't go to the repository. It stays in the reactor where it belongs.

The fission products go to monitored storage, not 10,000 year storage like Yucca Mountain. In 300 years the FPs are at background levels of radiation.

Keeping actinides completely out of the waste stream is how to avoid Yucca Mountain, and that's exactly what you can do with LFTR.

donb said...

I often wonder if the money already spent on Yucca Mountain had been spent instead on developing Gen IV reactors (the liquid fluoride reactor being one example) that we might have had those reactors on line by now, burning the spent fuel from light-water (and heavy water) reactors, rather than burying all that untapped energy.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Kerry / Edwards in 2004 tried to pander to NV by trash talking Yucca, but they still lost NV in the electoral college. NV voters may not want Yucca, but that is not highest on their priority list. Democrats should look for other issues that matter more to NV voters and leave Yucca alone. By attacking Yucca to try to win Nevada, they potentially push away voters in other states and still do not win NV. They shoot themselves in the foot twice. Now that I think about it, I am fine with that approach.