Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nobody Trips Over a Mountain

yucca-drawing The used fuel repository at Yucca Mountain has found itself in a bit of a corner. The Obama administration intends to withdraw all funds for it except what is necessary to allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate its license application. Obama had stated a preference for intermediate storage at the plant sites while trying to figure something out, as expressed here:

I believe a better short-term solution is to store nuclear waste on-site at the reactors where it is produced, or at a designated facility in the state where it is produced, until we find a safe, long-term disposal solution that is based on sound science.

Which is pretty much what has been happening anyway. Yucca Mountain is based on sound science, so Obama presumably means sounder science.


The scaling back of the project at least allows the politics around it to recede as well. While Senate majority leader Harry Reid generally supports expanding the use of nuclear energy, he never liked Yucca Mountain – it’s in his state - and opposition to it is a given in Nevada. Reid’s lately pretty happy:

Make no mistake: this represents a significant and lasting victory in our battle to protect Nevada from becoming the country’s toxic wasteland. I have worked for over two decades with help from our state’s leaders and thousands of Nevadans to stop Yucca Mountain.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt going into the the 2010 midterms, when Reid’s up for re-election. (And that’s not being snotty – Reid’s been very consistent both on nuclear energy and Yucca Mountain, whether the Democrats were in or out or power at a given moment.)


But let’s assume Yucca Mountain does present too big a NIMBY target – it can be pretty tough to site windmills much less a used fuel repository.

NEI’s President and CEO Marv Fertel, offered an op-ed at Energy Daily that does a good job laying out, shall we call it, the plagues and pleasures of moving forward with a reduced, or perhaps more accurate to say, an altered focus on Yucca Mountain. How about recycling?

Given the clear need for expansion of nuclear energy programs in the United States and worldwide, the nuclear industry proposed two years ago that our nation should revisit the decision to use a once-through fuel cycle and instead pursue a closed fuel cycle that includes recycling. This integrated approach includes at-reactor storage, private sector or government-owned centralized storage, research and development on recycling technology and continued development and licensing of a federal repository.

And long term storage?

Even with a closed fuel cycle, a geologic repository will be needed for the ultimate disposal of the waste byproducts. Licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository should continue, but the characteristics of the waste form requiring disposal will influence the design of the repository.

Did we mention plagues above? Plagues there may be:

If the administration unilaterally decides to abandon the Yucca Mountain project without enacting new legislation to modify or replace existing law, it should expect a new wave of lawsuits seeking further damage payments as well as likely requests for refunding of at least $22 billion already collected from consumers that has not been spent on the program from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

But read the rest yourself at the NEI site. Lots of good content and realistic about – well, how does the rest of that saying go? "Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain.” May sound a bit Kung-Fu, but say it as Keye Luke would have, and it’s wise enough. It moves us forward.

Yucca Mountain. What might have been, what might still be.


Marcel F. Williams said...

The Federal government has already received billions of dollars from regional utilities that operate commercial nuclear power facilities for the disposal of spent fuel.

The Federal government needs to utilize this money to set up Federal Nuplexes in every spent fuel producing State to serve as central repositories and reprocessing centers for spent fuel.

Additionally, Federal Nuplexes should utilize the reprocessed fuel through on site nuclear reactors at each Nuplex for the production of base-load electricity, industrial chemicals, and hydrocarbon synfuels for transportation and clean carbon neutral peak-load energy production.

Marcel F. Williams
The Nuplex Solution

Anonymous said...

The Obama administration has made a commitment to review U.S. nuclear waste policy. It no longer makes any sense to rush to stick a large amount of spent fuel into Yucca Mountain, so there is no real technical impact from stopping the work toward construction of the site, while the licensing effort to provide independent NRC review of Yucca Mountain's suitability continues (although there is a rapidly growing taxpayer liability).

I really hope that this policy review ends up being successful in identifying a solution that can gain sufficient votes from the representatives of the 39 states that now host temporary storage of spent fuel and high level waste. Such a solution likely does exist, and fixing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act would be a major accomplishment.

If this effort fails, then our default policy is already well known. The default policy is written in the current statute--construct Yucca Mountain and stuff it full of spent fuel as quickly as possible. Hopefully we can do better than this.