Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Used Nuclear Fuel and Government Responsibility

ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism outlet, brings out an interesting point about used nuclear fuel: there's a lot of money to do something with it, but nothing is being done with the money. How much money?
There is $24 billion sitting in a "nuclear waste fund" that can't actually be used to pay for a safer way to store the waste at reactors.
And why might this be?
The idea at the time [of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982] was to build a repository inside volcanic rock on Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. That plan proved to be wildly controversial and was eventually abandoned by the Obama administration in 2010. After 29 years, there are billions of dollars in the fund and no plan for the waste.
And this failure has led to a battery of lawsuits that may cost the government almost as much as is in the waste fund.
The companies have filed dozens of lawsuits, for $6.4 billion in total claims, according to figures maintained by the Department of Justice. The government has already paid out $956 million. It's also spent nearly $170 million simply defending itself against the claims.[...]Department of Energy statistics show that new lawsuits and other costs could eventually push the government's legal liability to $16.2 billion.
ProPublica pushes the issue of used nuclear fuel at the plants as unsafe further than reality dictates in order to give the story a little more urgency. And if ProPublica were being completely fair, it would have brought up the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Energy Future, which is seriously exploring this issue. 


Those lapses hurt the story a bit, but the premise is sound: there's a lot of money to fund a permanent solution to the issue of used nuclear fuel and the government has failed to live up to its end of the bargain.


Worth a read.
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NEI has a comprehensive set of Fact Sheets on these issues. Go here and look at the last group on the page, under Nuclear Waste and Used Nuclear Fuel Management. Won't lead you wrong.


The Yucca Mountain used fuel repository when it was still under construction.



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