Skip to main content

GAO Cites Missteps in DOE's Hasty Termination of Yucca Mountain Project

A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Energy’s expedited termination of the Yucca Mountain repository project “did not consistently follow federal policy and guidance for planning or assessing the risks of the shutdown” and showed lax attention to government procedures for disposing of federal property.

The report was requested by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who asked GAO to determine, among other things, the basis of DOE’s action. Here’s what GAO found:
DOE’s decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons.
The acting principal deputy director of the [Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management] explained Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s thinking this way:
[He said] that the secretary’s decision was based on a proposed change of department policy. … He did not, however, cite any technical concerns or safety issues related to the Yucca Mountain repository. [He] explained that the secretary believes there are better solutions that can achieve a broader national consensus to the nation’s spent fuel and nuclear waste storage needs than Yucca Mountain, although he did not cite any.
The National Academy of Sciences and international science experts continue to believe geologic disposal is the best solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste, GAO said.

Meanwhile, DOE has spent nearly $15 billion since 1983 to evaluate potential nuclear waste repository sites, mostly to evaluate the Yucca Mountain site in more depth and prepare a license application for it. About 65 percent of this expenditure, or about $9.5 billion, came from the Nuclear Waste Fund. In return for that investment, U.S. taxpayers got a very large, empty hole under a remote mountain. But the funds invested directly in creating and studying the cavernous hole do not give a full picture of the cost to taxpayers, GAO said:
This does not include an estimated $956 million already paid by taxpayers from the U.S. Treasury’s judgment fund, resulting from 74 industry lawsuits, in which courts have ordered the government to compensate utilities for not accepting spent nuclear fuel starting in 1998, as required under the [Nuclear Waste Policy Act]. The government also has incurred $168 million in costs to defend DOE in litigation.
Now DOE apparently wants to start over, from square one.

GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a more predictable funding mechanism to develop and implement a disposal solution for used nuclear fuel and defense waste and creating an independent organization, outside DOE, to lead the siting and development of a permanent repository.

For another GAO report on the Yucca Mountain project, see this post.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…