Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sue Lowden and the Return (?) of Yucca Mountain

SueLowden2 Here’s something we didn’t expect to read:

At the meeting, Lowden said she is committed to amending and rewording the Nuclear Waste Policy Act so that it requires Yucca Mountain be prepared not only for the long-term storage of the nuclear waste, but also for reprocessing the waste into usable fuel.

A little context, perhaps? Well, the meeting was of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation and Lowden is Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden. She leads in the Republican primary there and in poll-driven match-ups against Democrat Harry Reid, she also wins.

We’d warn, though, that it’s still too far out to count on such polls, which can change on a dime. Good example: Lowden herself – she’s the candidate who picked up considerable bad press after she suggested that bartering for medical care might help contain costs and that the barter might include chickens.

None-the-less, we were interested to see that opposition to Yucca Mountain is not an article of faith for politicians – that is, a local circumstance that trumps party loyalty.

Last month, GOP adviser Sig Rogich criticized Lowden’s stance on Yucca Mountain, saying that a single nuclear waste spill could destroy the Nevada economy.  This echoes the stance of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which cites concern for leaks of radioactive substances and accidents in transportation as two of its reasons for opposing the repository site.

These are non-starter arguments: used nuclear fuel already travels around the country, and has for a long time, without incident; and a “single nuclear waste spill” ruining the Nevada economy seems an out-of-the-hat argument that has no basis in any reality. Not sure the journalistic “balance” was really necessary here.

This is what makes sense:

“I don’t understand how someone could just willfully take out $500 million to $1 billion out of the economy of southern Nevada, and expect it to just flourish” he [Dr. Dennis Moltz, a nuclear scientist] said. “Because that’s what Yucca Mountain was bringing in for many years: $500 million to $1 billion.“

So if Lowden supports reopening Yucca Mountain, fine. That she may have to face down DOE Secretary Steven Chu and President Obama, also fine. There’s been a lot of doubt raised – and lawsuits filed – over Yucca Mountain, so she’s in good company.

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We paid a visit to Lowden’s campaign site to see what, if anything, she had to say about nuclear energy. We got a bit of a surprise:

Sue Lowden has always been and remains opposed to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act – which calls for deep, geologic burial of high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  As a Nevada State Senator, Sue traveled to Washington, DC, in the 90s to testify before a congressional panel in opposition to this misguided policy.

That’s not exactly inconsistent – she says above she want to rethink the Nuclear Waste Act – but it does seem she does not support reopening Yucca Mountain.

Or does she?

Sue believes that if nuclear waste ends up being shipped to Nevada, we should ensure that Nevada can become the leader of a new, job-creating industry on reducing and ultimately, permanently eliminating the waste.  She believes our Nevada Test Site could become the next major economic development, job-creating, high-tech nuclear laboratory – not just for the US, but throughout the world.  Lawrence Livermore in California and Los Alamos in New Mexico are two of our nation’s leading national laboratories and many other states are competing for new, high-tech, job, career and industry-creating projects.

Hmm! Now, we’re really not sure what she has in mind. Here’s a little more from the meeting that may clarify her position a little better.

“There was a feeling that this was being shoved down Nevada’s throat by the federal government, and people don’t like it in Nevada when the federal government comes in and says ‘you will do this,’ without having any input from the people,” Lowden said. “And frankly, I didn’t like it when I was a state senator. I testified to them in Washington that I did not like the fact that Nevada was told ‘this is what we will do.’”

Lowden said, however, that she’s willing to learn more about nuclear energy, and its potential use for Nevada in the future.

So – an evolving stance. Especially if Lowden wins her primary on June 8, this will be an evolution well worth following. This may shape up to be a very consequential race.

Sue Lowden.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The dumbest thing about the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is that it calls for throwing away a huge amount of perfectly good used nuclear fuel. Hats off to Sue Lowden for saying that we should do something productive with it.

Sterling Archer said...

...ruining the Nevada economy seems an out-of-the-hat argument that has no basis in any reality.

Out-of-the-hat arguments seem to be the specialty of anti-evolutionists and anti-nukes. Since neither group is bounded by reality, they can invent more lies in five minutes than a scientist can debunk in a day.

Phil said...

Maybe Ms. Lowden has discussed the issue of jobs and economic development with the people living near the WIPP.....

donb said...

Sue (Lowden) believes that if nuclear waste ends up being shipped to Nevada, we should ensure that Nevada can become the leader of a new, job-creating industry on reducing and ultimately, permanently eliminating the waste.

I really like the idea of permanently eliminating the waste. It would certainly be a boost for Nevada's economy if the state became a center for advanced reactors that could permanently eliminate the waste.

Nathan said...

I am now convinced that closing Yucca was a good thing. I am pro nuclear. My logic is based on the fact that a discussion will now occur. Yucca Mountain is off the table and the blue ribbon panel meetings are starting to discuss long term solutions for waste storage. Will waste reprocessing be a viable option? Seems like a huge waste of potential energy to simply bury the spent fuel. An Areva study concludes that reprocessing and recycling would reduce U.S. waste volume by a factor of four for the same cooling period as once-through spent fuel -- about 50 years.

More info here: http://powertrends.blogspot.com/2010/03/fun-with-nuclear-waste.html

DocForesight said...

@Mark Flanagan -- As you state, context is everything. The context in which Sue Lowden made reference to "bartering" for health care by paying with chickens had to do with the way people used to pay for services in certain parts of the country when they had no cash. The doctor, in this example, agreed to accept that form of payment rather than deny care for the patient.

I agree that re-visiting the Yucca Mtn. site decision is worth the time as it can further inform the public and policy makers what value SNF really is.