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No Plans From Chu to Stop Progress on Yucca Mountain

From the Las Vegas Review Journal:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a group of state officials Wednesday he favors moving toward licensing a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, although whether it would ever be built is another thing altogether.


The proceedings would continue for the government to work through issues associated with licensing a first-of-its-kind nuclear waste site, according to this view.

The episode appeared to shed further light on the thinking of the new energy secretary and a possible Obama administration strategy on the Nevada project.
We still have this issue, though:
... several people who were at the 20-minute session said Chu stressed that President Barack Obama doesn't want the Yucca repository, "and I work for the president."
On a slightly different note, Las Vegas Review Journal reported this the day before:
The government affairs arm of the nuclear industry on Monday called for President Barack Obama to convene a blue ribbon nuclear waste commission, a move that could be a first step toward forming alternatives to burying radioactive power plant fuel at Yucca Mountain.

With the future uncertain for the Nevada project, the Nuclear Energy Institute is endorsing a fresh look at nuclear fuel management, an NEI official told an audience of state utility regulators. Under the proposal, the Department of Energy would be allowed to continue pursuing a license to build the Yucca repository while the study was being conducted over a 12- to 24-month period.


"Others are raising the issue that they want to end this current program, so then what is Plan B?" Paul Genoa said. "I would expect any politician responsible for this would have to put forward a Plan B before they take away Plan A, and how do you do that without some consultative process?
Here's our three-pronged, integrated used fuel management strategy (pdf) for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Picture of the desolate Yucca Mountain. If used fuel can't be stored safely in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, then where can it be put?


Pete Wilson said…
On Tuesday, the NRC announced it was adopting the 1 million year rule for allowable radiation levels at the proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain.

It was my understanding that DOE's license application for the YMP was based on limiting the dose of radiation to 15 millirem for the first 10,000 years after disposal. Now, the NRC has adopted the EPA's limit of 100 millirem from 10,001 years to 1 million years.

Will this rule change affect the license application process?
Jason Ribeiro said…
I found Steven Chu's comment "[that President Barack Obama doesn't want the Yucca repository]...and I work for the president." interesting. Yes, while he does work for the president, what the president wants must be expressed in law or executive orders. Until there is a "we the people don't want Yucca Mt." Law, I believe the DOE has a legal obligation to fulfill the nuclear waste policy act.

Yucca could be part of the solution but it is not THE solution. More importantly it's part of a solution that wasn't urgently needed at this point of time in my opinion. Also, the style of Yucca as a solution is not just overkill, but sends the wrong message to the public about the safety of nuclear.

Geographically it might be sound, but that region already has a bad cultural history in the public's mind with the nuclear test site and Area 51 as next door neighbors. Not being sensitive to that obvious context was a crucial mistake. Adding Yucca Mt to Nevada stacks yet another thing weird and different about the state of Nevada - gambling, legal prostitution, nuclear test site/dumping ground, etc. No wonder many Nevadans resent it, the state has an odd image problem to begin with.
Anonymous said…
If used fuel can't be stored safely in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, then where can it be put?

Obviously, it could be destroyed by transmutation, as any high-school science student would suggest.

From the perspective of an outsider, there's been frustratingly little progress on closed fuel cycles - combining chemical reprocessing with fast or epithermal breeder reactors, like the IFR or the thorium MSR. Between fast reactors burning minor actinides and some fission products, and ordinary thermal reactors burning MOX fuel, such a fuel system would practically eliminate the long-lived "waste" needing storage. (Shorter-lived fission products could be held in interim, above-ground storage facilities, like the photogenic orange building in the Netherlands).

The advantages are numerous. The political waste problem would be completely obsoleted (including Yucca Mountain). The fuel efficiency would be multiplied by two orders of magnitude, eliminating the need for politically touchy uranium mining (see Australia), and furthering an extremely credible political case for nuclear-based 'energy independence' (see France). And as the proportion of minor actinides is small compared to the fissile ones, the ratio of fast reactors to thermal reactors would also be small - few would be needed.

Again, this is the tentative opinion of a poorly-informed outsider - but the U.S. nuclear industry has been disappointingly slow in advancing research into such advanced technology. Granted, political support has been thin; for instance, Congress cut funding for the IFR project being designed by national labs. But then, I would expect established nuclear players to not be reliant on government research, but to be doing their own R&D - the same kind of innovation one sees so much of in the tech industry.

I would love to see the private sector take the initiative here, rather than wait for Congress to figure things out. I would love to see U.S. nuclear players take on 4th-generation nuclear power on their own R&D, for their own commercial gain, and so put U.S. energy at a competitive advantage.

-Some guy on the internet
Ray Lightning said…
If used fuel can't be stored safely in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, then where can it be put?


The bison hunters sponsored by the US army used to shoot the bisons at will, and then collect their tongues to show as proof to pick up prize money. The hunters left the rotting bison carcasses on the prairies.The American bison was almost hunted to extinction.

What the nuclear industry is doing now with U-235 is similar. It is just the tongue of the bison (the rest being U-238). Soon the bison will be hunted to extinction if this madness doesn't stop.

There is no reason, ethical, economic or otherwise, why the whole of Uranium should not be used to generate electricity.

In fact, this is the only way for humanity to get out of the energy and environmental crises.

Dumping the rotting bison carcasses (U-238) in the prairies (Yucca mountain) has to stop. Look for alternate plans.
Anonymous said…
Obviously, it could be destroyed by transmutation, as any high-school science student would suggest.

The problem is that all fuel cycle options produce some wastes that require geologic disposal. Certainly it is a lousy idea to put commercial spent fuel into Yucca Mountain, but the U.S. still needs to develop a repository for residual wastes from reprocessing and for defense high level wastes.
Anonymous said…
The NRC is required by legislation to adopt the rule issued by the EPA for Yucca Mountain radiation standards. This rule is a two-tiered rule that allows almost ten times as much exposure after 10,000 years as before 10,000 years and therefore violates the principle of intergenerational equity. This principle states that one should not expose future generations to more radiation than present generations.
It will be interesting to see how the difference in the positions of President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu on the Yucca Mountain repository are resolved. I hope the budget will give us a clue.
Pete Wilson said…
Thanks to Feb. 22 Anonymous for clarifying the rules on radiation standards.
Anonymous said…
The NWPA is still in effect. Executive orders cannot override an act of Congress. If they want to do away with Yucca Mountain, the Congress will have to amend the NWPA.

The Administration can request zero funding for it, I guess. Then Congress will have to restore the funds, or not. But I don't know if the courts would interpret zeroing out funding as a violation of the NWPA, in spirit if not letter.

But I am wondering, if Obomba trashes YM, do we get our money back? We've been paying into the waste fund all these years on the assumption that something would come of it. If nothing does, can the utilities at least sue to get their (our) money back?
David Bradish said…
anon, some utilities already are suing the Department of Energy, because DOE was supposed to take the used fuel in 1998 as stated in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Anonymous said…
Time to lawyer up. If Obombah trashes YM, I say sue the pants off of the bums for every cent, plus interest.o

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