Thursday, April 09, 2015

Yucca Mountain: Nuclear Albatross or Top 10?

A couple of mentions in the Nevada press about Yucca Mountain suggested that the state might become at least a bit more open about reactivating the project. You can read about this a couple of posts below.

That’s just the tip of the mountain. There’s lately been a regular boomlet in interest in the brown mound, keyed largely to a Congressional delegation paying a visit there:

Five U.S. Congress members are heading to the mothballed site of a proposed national radioactive waste dump in the Nevada desert, amid new talk about a decades-old problem — where to dispose of spent nuclear fuel stored at commercial reactors around the U.S.

Note the word “dump” there? We’ll be coming back to that.

The daylong tour is being led by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, Republican chairman of the House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee and a supporter of plans to entomb the nation’s most radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. “Our nation desperately needs to advance our nuclear waste strategy and Yucca Mountain is a part of the solution,” Shimkus said in a statement.

This trip will include Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy (R), who got the ball rolling (a bit, anyway) with his op-ed we reference in the post below. He represents Yucca Mountain’s district.

Is it possible that Yucca Mountain is actually a countervailing force in the discussion of used nuclear fuel? The Hill has a long (long) article on the implications of reviving Yucca Mountain and titles it The Yucca Albatross, based on this comment:

The Yucca Mountain issue ... is dragging the whole effort to move forward on spent nuclear fuel,” says Timothy Frazier, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center who spent more than two decades managing nuclear programs at the Energy Department. “Yucca is like an albatross around its neck.”

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Frazier means. The sooner Yucca Mountain is dropped, the better for moving forward on used nuclear fuel?

That doesn’t seem remotely true, as the article itself reveals:

The administration is forging ahead on interim storage, announcing on March 24 that the Energy Department would begin establishing a consent-based process for siting temporary facilities and reaching out to communities that may be interested in hosting spent fuel.

Used fuel policy can contain multitudes – consolidated storage sites and a permanent repository and splitting defense used fuel from domestic used fuel for storage and Yucca Mountain. Maybe Frazier means that stopping the Yucca Mountain project back in 2008 introduced uncertainty into the used fuel discussion. That’s true enough, so if the uncertainty were removed, by reviving the project, that would be good, wouldn’t it? (The article itself is balanced and very thorough – well worth a full read.


NEI has posted a list of 10 facts about Yucca Mountain, also pegged to the Shimkus delegation. This is where the whole dump thing gets shaken around:

Reporters appear to delight in calling the proposed repository a “dump,” even though it would be a precisely engineered, state-of-the-art facility. As the National Waste and Recycling Association says of municipal solid waste landfills, “the ‘garbage dump’ is no more.”

A friend’s father owns a sanitation company and I wouldn’t care to run the word dump by him for fear of getting scorched, much less apply the word to something like Yucca Mountain. I think we can say that dump in almost any context is freighted with judgment and should be retired unless it truly fits. Bette Davis intoning “What a dump!” about her own home in Beyond the Forest (1940) works, but that’s about it.

Nine of the points are on target. We’ll let you discover the 10th – it involves lizards or maybe it’s insects – yourself.

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