Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Return of Yucca Mountain

YuccaMountain1 Color us surprised. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled yesterday its version of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the Energy Department with an unexpected line item. We’ll have more on the nuclear energy-specific aspects of the House budget tomorrow or Monday – there’s a markup of the bill later today that might shift some of the numbers around. It’s worth waiting to see how that turns out.

Anyway, here’s the surprising part:

The subcommittee's bill would increase funding in one area that DOE did not request. The Obama administration has sought to kill the long-planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, and proposed no funding for the project. But that move has been attacked by Republicans in Congress, and the subcommittee proposed $35 million to continue work on the project, and would forbid DOE from using funds to close the project.

$10 million of this would be used to continue the NRC review of the license for Yucca Mountain submitted to it by DOE – the committee did not explain what the other $25 million covered – that might be up to DOE.

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But the decision to revive the used fuel repository might explain, at least in part, what occurred at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing yesterday :

Chu didn’t testify, but one of his top aides did -- Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Peter Lyons -- and he got an earful from virtually every member who questioned him.

“Regardless of who the administration is, the abject failure to follow federal law here is most disturbing, and it’s unacceptable,” Representative Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) bellowed at an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. “It’s unacceptable by any administration of any party.”

“Bellowed” is rather colorful for a news story, but it’s certainly true that Inslee was far from pleased. Inslee’s view is that stopping work on Yucca Mountain broke a provision in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that specifically charges DOE with developing the Nevada mound as a national used fuel repository. Most of the other committee numbers who quizzed Lyons on Yucca Mountain agreed with Inslee.

Are they right? Decide for yourself. You can read the entire Act here. The provisions about Yucca Mountain begin on page 13 (20 on your pdf page counter).

So, at least for now, Yucca Mountain is back. This is literally the first step in the budget process following the President’s presentation of his Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal, so there’s much more to come.

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We’ve had way too much fun scoring Germany for its ill-considered decision to shutter all its nuclear plants by 2022. Of course, that’s pretty much what you’d expect from any nuclear energy advocate – even if the case against closing the plants is very strong however you look at it. See, for example, the Washington Post:

The international Energy Agency reported on Monday that global energy-related carbon emissions last year were the highest ever, and that the world is far off track if it wants to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, after which the results could be very dangerous.

So what does Germany’s government decide to do? Shut down terawatts of low-carbon electric capacity in the middle of Europe. Bowing to misguided political pressure from Germany’s Green Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a plan to close all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022.

The Post makes a list of why this is an awful outcome (I’ve adapted these – see the editorial for the full context):

  • Renewables would have to generate an incredible 42.4 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020 to displace nuclear
  • Germany’s move will result in about 400 million tons of extra carbon emissions by 2020, as the country relies more on fossil fuels
  • Germany will likely import more power from its neighbors
  • Germans will end up buying electricity generated in nuclear plants in nations such as France. [I guess we could call that the hypocrisy line item, but it would actually be helpful rather than hurtful.]

The conclusion:

Instead of providing a model for greening a post-industrial economy, Germany’s overreaching greens are showing the rest of the world just how difficult it is to contemplate big cuts in carbon emissions without keeping nuclear power on the table.

Indeed. The happiest face one can put on Germany’s decision is that cooler heads will prevail and keep at least some of the plants open – and that could happen - Germany has gone back and forth on this issue several times already. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a few more hairpin turns in this story.

Ah, Yucca Mountain. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? You look great!

2 comments:

DocForesight said...

Not to worry, Germany's PV output will surely fill the gap. Here's a link to the daily ouput:

http://www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

Germans will rue the day they made this knee-jerk decision based on an event which has no parallel in their geographic region.

Steve said...

The House Appropriations Committee's proposal of $35 million to continue work on Yucca Mountain is all political grandstanding. It will never pass the Senate while Harry Reid is the majority leader. That explains the vagueness of the spending amounts. Nothing to see here, folks, except for more political theater.