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The Who What Where Why of Yucca Mountain

james_inhofe A group of 17 Senators are puzzled:

Over $7.7 billion has been spent researching Yucca Mountain as a potential repository site and neither the NAS, the NWTRB, nor any of our National Labs involved in conducting studies and evaluating data have concluded that there is any evidence to disqualify Yucca Mountain as a repository.

That’s certainly true. This comes from a letter written by the Senators (all Republican) to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. And they’re doing what a opposing minority should be doing – making the administration explain itself.

As recently as August 2008, all ten National Lab directors, including you, signed a letter on the essential role of nuclear energy which advocated continuing the licensing of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain.

Again, true, though the “letter” was really more of a white paper.

So, what would they like to have happen?

Given this history, President Obama's memoranda that science will guide public policy and his commitment to an unprecedented level of openness, we find it difficult to reconcile your statement that Yucca Mountain is "not an option" made after only 6 weeks in office.

Please respond to the questions and provide the information requested in the attachment by June 1, 2009. We are eager to gain a better understanding of the basis for your decision and the process that was followed to arrive at that conclusion. Thank you in advance for your timely response on this matter.

You can read the questions in the letter. Rest assured, they’re responsive to the the Senators’ annoyance and, we should note, rather put Chu on the spot. We think this group is on the right track – it includes John McCain (Ariz.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) - and the DOE’s puzzling decision may well get a fuller hearing. Let’s keep an eye on this one.

Senator Inhofe has questions. We await the answers eagerly.


Ioannes said…

This wouldn't be happening if you all had voted for John McCain. Yucca would be a done deal, and money would be freed up to build 40more nukes.
Anonymous said…

By done deal, what do you mean? That it would be going forward, or killed?

McCain is one of Yucca's biggest supporters.

Just to let everyone know, his amendment to kill the project and refund the money to utilities was not meant to pass, and it is the exact oppposite of his views. It was meant to put the rank-and-file of the House and Senate on record as being opposed to the termination of the Yucca project, by overwhelming margins. This would send a message to Obama and Reid, as well as the public.

Jim Hopf
Joffan said…
Ioannes: get over it. The 2008 election was not primarily about nuclear power. Republicans are on a serious downslope, and well deserved it is too.

I will make the counter suggestion that NNN never - seriously, never - quote Inhofe with approval about anything. He is dedicated to misleading in the service of anti-science.
Yucca sends the wrong message, IMO. Spent fuel is not waste, its a valuable resource.

The Federal government simply needs to set up secured above ground repositories for spent fuel cask in every State that is currently producing spent fuel. The spent fuel can then remain at these Federal sites until they are sent to Federal reprocessing plants.

The residual waste produced at reprocessing plants can be stored in cask and returned to the State Federal repository of origin for a few hundred years until final deposition.

The reprocessed fuel [plutonium and uranium (after enrichment)] could be used by Federally owned nuclear power facilities.

So the commercial facilities get what they want, the removal of spent fuel from their facilities, the Federal government gets what it wants, continued payments from the commercial nuclear industry for nuclear waste disposal, and the public gets what it wants, both short term and long term solutions for spent fuel.
Anonymous said…
Steven Chu has never said that he thinks Yucca Mountain could not work as a repository. He has said that he thinks that we can do better. Certainly there are better ideas than the current law, which would stuff 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel and defense waste into Yucca and close it up.

Chu is a very bright guy, and he is putting together a commission to provide recommendations on how the U.S. should handle spent fuel and nuclear waste. Congress has not changed the current law yet, but hopefully Congress will do its part after it gets the commission's recommendations.
Rod Adams said…
I agree with Marcel. Yucca is not the right solution to used nuclear fuel for a number of science based reasons. I am not questioning the science leading to the conclusion that Yucca would be a safe repository, but even good science can be directed to answering the WRONG question.

Since used nuclear fuel is not WASTE, there is no reason to have spent $7 billion and counting answering the question "is Yucca Mountain a suitable site for a waste repository?"

Unfortunately that money is gone. It was spent in a misdirected game where many participants had hidden goals and where many mostly good people just wanted to keep their jobs.

If I was king for a day, I would stop collecting the rather modest tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour fee from the utilities and instead tell them that they are truly the OWNERS of the material. They should be able to put it to its best and most profitable legal use. (Obviously there are some uses that are not legal and not desirable.)

Nuclear plant operators should stop asking the federal government to solve their problems, but they need the government to agree that it is not the ultimate decision maker in this field of endeavor.
Anonymous said…
Reprocessing is the better way to go, but it would require lifting the EO that scotched it in the first place. That is something Obama will never do. Why? Because Dem political hacks are beholden to the radical environmentalists for support. They know if they cross them, they're done. So what do you get? Stall ball. Trash the YM project (and waste all the money, time and effort on it), appoint a "Blue Ribbon Commission" (i.e., a committee to stall the ball), and kick the can down the road. It isn't leadership, but it's what we have in office today.
Anonymous said…
Yucca was always a political disaster. Better to start over. There will be plenty of places that will VOLUNTEER to host either a repository, a recycling center, or both.

Be aware: Inhofe is an anti-science moron.
Anonymous said…
Why do so many of you believe that reprocessing is an ALTERNATIVE to a deep geological repository? Regardless of the site chosen, such a repository will eventually be needed whether or not the fuel cycle is closed. Military high-level waste, vitrified HLW left over after reprocessing, and irradiated MOX fuel have to go SOMEWHERE, eventually.
Anonymous said…
"Reprocessing is the better way to go, but it would require lifting the EO that scotched it in the first place. That is something Obama will never do. Why?"

Because Ronald Reagan already did that, in 1981.
Anonymous said…
"Because Ronald Reagan already did that, in 1981."

Thank you - I have been hearing since the early 1980's that "Jimmy Carter killed reprocessing." I'm sick & tired of hearing that falsehood from people who should know better. Maybe someone here can expand on the true story.
Anonymous said…
To clarify the reprocessing history:

- Gerald Ford put in place a temporary order to stop reprocessing fuel.
- Jimmy Carter made that permanent with an executive order that prohibited any further reprocessing. Whatever facilities that were built at that point were forced to shutdown and lost lots of money.
- When Reagan was elected, he immediately revoked the executive order, but the damage was already done and nobody has been able to restart reprocessing ever since.
- When it became clear that reprocessing wasn't going to start up again, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982?) that imposed the $0.001/KW-Hr surcharge on nuclear power, and directed the DOE to use the money to find a permanent repository. They gave DOE 15 years, and it was supposed to be running in 1997/1998 timeframe. That was over 10 years ago and we're all still waiting!!

I agree with the last part of the original article - If you're going to abandon the project, then refund all the money.
Anonymous said…
I agree with the last part of the original article - If you're going to abandon the project, then refund all the money.You are correct from a moral perspective but renegging on agreements is not something new to the federal govenment. Especially with this latest crowd of lotus-eaters currently in power. Look at what they did to the one bondholder for, what was it, Chrysler, who had the temerity to insist on his legal, contractual rights. They threatened to destroy him with the White House press corps, which is wrapped around their finger. If there are any ratepayers out there who have the nerve to even think about insisting on a refund of the money the government took from you to do something they said they'd do but now won't, well, forget about it, because if you try, they'll destroy you.
Anonymous said…
"When Reagan was elected, he immediately revoked the executive order, but the damage was already done and nobody has been able to restart reprocessing ever since."

No, the problem at that point was that reprocessing and MOX cost several times more than once-through. No US utilities had any interest in reprocessing.

Rising uranium prices have since changed that equation somewhat, but it's still the case. Don't blame reprocessing's inability to compete in the market 30 years later on Jimmy Carter.
Aureliano said…
The best answer is Yucca moutnain AND reprocessing (recycling). Even if we reprocessed Plutonium in a MOX system (a la France), we'd have the minor actinides (Np, Am, Cm) and fission products (Sr-90, I, Cs, etc). Minor actinides can be used in fuel for fast reactors.... which we have none of.

Even if we reprocessed the plutonium, recycled it in our current reactors, AND built fast reactors to burn the actinides, we'd still need a geological repository for the fission products...
Pete Wilson said…
"Congress has not changed the current law yet, but hopefully Congress will do its part after it gets the commission's recommendations."The Senate staff draft for the 11-member National Commission on Nuclear Waste was published online today. It includes the following:

"The Commission shall submit to the President and Congress a final report containing the Commission’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act."

Can somebody please put on a pot of coffee? We're going to be waiting for those recommendations for quite some time.
Anonymous said…
re: getting refund from the govt. I'm pretty sure several utilities have sued, I think the tack they take is to try & get the feds to pay them back for what they have had to spend on re-racking spent fuel pools and/or building dry cask ISFISIs. Anyone here know the details? Have any of these suits come to conclusion (ie, any payouts yet?)

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