Monday, October 31, 2011

Dreaming About a Repository

blue-ribbonLast week, I sat in on a House hearing about the Blue Ribbon Commission’s draft report. The hearing rapidly departed from the subject and veered to Yucca Mountain, which the commission was asked not to consider. None of the commission members were at the hearing – they want to wait until the release of the final report in January to talk about it.

But here’s the thing. The commission’s draft report suggests final disposition of used fuel in a deep geologic repository – just like it-that-will-not-be-named.

And interestingly, a kind of mirror image of the hearing occurred a few days later – again intended to be about the commission’s draft report but really about Yucca Mountain.

Many who spoke Friday urged the commission to fight for Yucca Mountain, a proposed long-term nuclear waste storage site in Nevada that is on the verge of being rejected by the federal government.

[State] Sen. John Howe said the commission – which took a neutral stance on Yucca Mountain in its report – should support the project. And Egan said he is concerned about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission studying longer-term on-site storage.

“Yucca Mountain should not be off the table,” he said.

Where is this? Minnesota.

Gathered in Minneapolis, legislators, city and tribal leaders, corporate representatives and others shared their reactions to a draft report from the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future outlining suggestions for nuclear waste management.

The story doesn’t say who called this meeting, but it had very broad representation among stakeholders near the Prairie Island facility (except perhaps Prairie Island’s owner Xcel, which is quoted separately in the story.) And most wanted a permanent fuel repository.

Surprisingly, very little of this (as reported) seemed to have to do with the used fuel casks at Prairie Island, but the issue of what was promised and not delivered.

On-site storage was supposed to be a temporary measure, but dry-cask storage has been in place at Prairie Island since the 1990s, he said. Johnson urged the commission to push for results this time.

“We are tired of hearing more promises that will just be broken,” he said.

The House members I listened to did not take this angle quite so directly, but it is a different matter when it comes to the states. Now, keeping used fuel on-site for an extended period of time is not dangerous – but it is also not what was promised – and it seems quite reasonable to discuss the implications of not keeping that promise.

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And what about Yucca Mountain?

Well, there’s this:

Three Republican presidential candidates pleased the hometown crowd in Las Vegas earlier this month with their answer to a question about whether the federal government should open the long-planned nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agreed it was a states’ rights issue and argued Nevada shouldn’t be compelled to accept nuclear waste from other states.

Which would seem to argue for on-site storage as an ongoing solution, which would require changing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and abrogating the directives of the blue ribbon commission (as we understand them from the draft report).

Here’s  Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.):

“I’d remind all the presidential candidates of the federal government’s promise to construct a long-term storage facility for the legacy weapons materials temporarily being stored in South Carolina,” Duncan said. “I suspect many South Carolina voters, including myself, will expect to hear the presidential candidates solution to this problem during their next visit to the Palmetto State.”

Duncan is referring to the Savannah River Site and he makes a salient point. If the candidates consider domestic nuclear fuel to be a state issue, what do they consider military used fuel? Yucca Mountain was meant to house both.

In other words, it’s a complex issue. Plenty of people will be happy to remind you of that if you underestimate it.

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From the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star:

The bodies of the final three victims were recovered Monday morning from a grain elevator that exploded Saturday, killing six people and injuring two others.

What happened?

The explosion was a harrowing reminder of the dangers inside elevators brimming with highly combustible grain dust at the end of harvest season. The blast fired an orange fireball into the night sky, shot off a chunk of the grain distribution building directly above the elevator and blew a large hole in the side of a concrete silo.

I would not dare compare this to Fukushima, though the picture at the link brings back memories. What struck me about this is how much risk is involved even in activities that one wouldn’t necessarily call industrial or consider particularly risky (well, from the outside – the silo workers were certainly aware of it.)

I’m sure risk assessment and mitigation are important topics among silo operators – but still, a fireball flew into the Kansas sky – and five workers (all in their early 20s) and a Kansas state grain inspector (father of three young children) are dead. It will be interesting to see how silo operators tighten their safety standards and perhaps install equipment to tamp down the dust.

It’s a blue ribbon, as in commission.

3 comments:

Brian Mays said...

"just like it-that-will-not-be-named."

Heh ... Perhaps they should change the name of Yucca Mountain to "Voldemort Mountain," at least until Reid is out of office.

D Pulaski said...

In the US natural gas is thought of as safe, and yet the New London, Texas, natural gas explosion in 1937 killed over 400 teachers and school children and is one of the US's biggest energy disasters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqCRNtZ12mo

In fact, I keep hearing gas touted on my TV as Clean and Safe.

Since nothing much has changed with gas, I doubt much will change will grain.

D. Pulaski

Jeff Skov said...

Yucca Mountain--"on the verge of being rejected by the federal government."

We must all remember that there is a difference between a press release by Sen. Harry Reid, on the one hand, and the law of the United States, on the other. No matter how resolute Sen. Reid's press releases sound, the Yucca Mountain repository won't be "on the verge of being rejected by the federal government" until legislation to that effect is introduced in the U.S. Congress that has the support of a majority of both houses and the President.

Jeff Skov