Nuclear Waste

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Reid's Folly

As a political quid pro quo for Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) support, President Obama pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in 2009. The Department of Energy then appointed the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future with the goal of recommending an alternative long term site for storing nuclear waste from power plants. The Commission released its report today. The report notes [PDF]:

Put simply, this nation's failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government's competence, and damaging to America's standing in the world— not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security. Continued stalemate is also costly—to utility ratepayers, to communities that have become unwilling hosts of long-term nuclear waste storage facilities, and to U.S. taxpayers who face mounting liabilities, already running into billions of dollars, as a result of the failure by both the executive and legislative branches to meet federal waste management commitments.

Well, yes. The Commission recommends establishing a "consent-based" process to find a new site for long term storage. But why? The U.S. already as a perfectly good site that can safely store nuclear waste for millennia: Yucca Mountain. A June report by the majority staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safety analysis of the Yucca Mountain facility and found: 

The results of this review are striking. Despite numerous suggestions by political officials— including President Obama—that Yucca Mountain is unsafe for storing nuclear waste, the Committee could not identify a single document to support such a claim. To the contrary, the Committee found great agreement among the scientific and technical experts responsible for reviewing the suitability of Yucca Mountain—considered by many to be ?the most studied piece of land on Earth?—that nuclear waste can be safely stored at the site for tens of thousands of years in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements.

Most noteworthy in this regard is Volume III of the NRC's Safety Evaluation Report (SER)—a comprehensive technical evaluation of site safety critical to advancing licensing and construction of the Yucca facility. Obtained by the Committee only after repeated demands and over the objections of the NRC Chairman, SER Volume III demonstrates in excruciating detail the level of technical support among NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) experts in favor of the site's advancement: the Committee found that NRC agreed with over 98.5 percent of DOE's findings regarding the site's suitability to meet regulatory requirements. The remaining 1.5 percent did not impact the NRC staff's overall conclusions, which found that DOE's Yucca Mountain License Application complies with applicable NRC safety requirements, including those related to human health and groundwater protection, and the specific performance objectives called for in NRC regulations for disposal of high-level radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain (10 CFR 63.113-115).

Why, then, has the President shut down the Yucca Mountain Project? And why does NRC Chairman Jaczko refuse to permit NRC safety review of the site to continue, and refuse to allow his fellow Commissioners to formally vote on DOE's Motion to Withdraw the Yucca Mountain License Application? The answer is clearly not explained by or based on any scientific or technical evaluation.

While the specific instances of concern uncovered by the Committee and detailed in this report are convincing in and of themselves, they collectively reveal not just a pattern, but a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related processes in order to shut down Yucca Mountain.

So much for the president's promise in his Inaugural address to "restore science to its rightful place."

NEXT: The Republican Neocon Consensus Has Collapsed

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  1. The president’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place.”

    Problem is, he believes science is the handmaiden of politics.

    1. no, obama is keeping his word to reid who represents many in the state who oppose yucca.

      1. As I noted, it’s a political not scientific decision.

      2. So if you don’t have to respect science when it’s politically inconvenient or when you have supporters who would be inconvenienced by science, I guess that means that AGW deniers are all in the clear, too.

        Whew! That’s a relief!

        1. as if yucca is the only place where waste could be stored. but there is only one earth climate…which is NOT weather u foolz

          1. Wow, why so much hate, double O? No need to be so nasty to people.

  2. Bailey, are you reading my blog again?

    http://rctlfy.wordpress.com/20…..say-sorry/

    1. It was my understanding that no one reads your blog. Have I been duped?

      1. Yes. I get hundred+ hits from Reason but most of my traffic is from outside the US

        1. Referrer Views
          reason.com 4,590

  3. A good friend of mine mapped all of the geologic faults in the vicinity of Yucca Mt. for her geology masters thesis. She said it’s the most fault-ridden piece of land in North America.

    1. Yes, but the Yucca Mountain site isn’t protecting us by being “intact”.

      It’s protecting us by being fucking big and having a certain mineral composition.

      A big earthquake at the site just…buries all the waste under a giant pile of impermeable salt.

      Oh noes! That earthquake buried our problem where no one will ever find it!

      1. Won’t someone think of teh Moleman?!

    2. Nevada is nothing but north-south faults – horsts and grabens where the land is alternately rising and falling. That area of the crust is being pulled apart and is cracking up a bit.

      I still don’t think that means we shouldn’t use it to store waste, though.

  4. I think I will take this opportunity to beat on John when he’s not around again.

    I think widespread deception of this kind is absolutely inevitable once you start giving motivated individuals within communities the ability to use the “planning” process to control nearby land use.

    The problem is that such a system allows those who lie the best or generate faux outrage the best or scare the electorate the most to enhance the value of their properties by preventing the construction of “scary” things like a power plant or a nuclear waste dump.

    And such a system also forces everyone to lie and to engage in faux outrage, because if others are doing that and you aren’t, you end up bearing the burden of all the projects they successfully exclude from their communities. All the property value they steal by their rent-seeking is stolen from you, because you failed to lie as much as they did.

    Because the representatives of the people of Nevada can lie, I am forced to lie as well.

    That’s the end game of any system of property law that allows one property owner to control what another property owner does.

    1. I’ve never understood why deed restrictions aren’t enough to control unwanted “land use” on nearby property.

      1. Like, say, unwanted land use of shooting dogs. (Sorry, forgot the tag line.)

        Nothing else happened.

  5. Cheyenne Mountain, CO, has a good nuclear proof facility that could be used to store waste.

    1. It already does.

  6. I lived in Las Vegas in the 90’s – nobody there cares about Yucca Mountain. Not even a little.

    Walk down any street in Vegas and ask people to show Yucca Mt. on a map – nobody will be able to. Exactly no voters make their decisions based on that place. I don’t understand why Reid thinks it’s such a big issue.

  7. Seems to me that the feds could simply threaten to yank the permits for every nuclear plant in the US in, say, 2015, contingent on the state providing a proper waste disposal facility. A state could forge an agreement with another state to dispose of the waste, but an adequate plan needs to be in place.

    Let the states figure it out. If they want cheap, clean power, they’ll figure it out. I bet Nevadans wouldn’t give a shit about Yucca Mountain if they got a nice big tax-cut thanks to the revenue it brought in.

    1. I like this plan

      Problem is the Feds would never willingly give up control of nuclear material.

  8. …them reptilian liberal-progressives are anti-scientific luddites, right?

  9. “The president’s promise in his Inaugural address to “‘restore science to its rightful place.'” Yucca mountain is not needed for that. All he needs to do is lift Jimmy Carter’s ban on breeder reactors. These recycle spent fuel rods. France gets something like 90% of its electricity from nukes, uses the breeder reactor technology, and its nuclear waste is stored in a room smaller than the Oval Office. We could do the same, but won’t because Obama knows as much about science as he does economics and business. zilch.

    1. Bingo. That, and use high purity fuel so there’s less waste.

      Reprocess the existing waste into high purity fuel. Then, dump only the completely unusable ‘slag’ left over, slag which shouldn’t have anywhere near the half-life of the high level waste they propose to dump at Yucca.

  10. I still like my plan of grinding all nuclear waste up with iron into a fine powder then dumping it evenly over a 5000 square mile area of the Pacific ocean.

  11. How the heck did some Senator from Nevada become so influential, anyway?

    1. ahh, senate majority leader. duh

      1. No, silly. How the heck did he become the Senate Majority Leader. Why him? Is he backed by the Mafia? Does he have incriminating photos of people from Nevada whorehouses? Is he especially cunning or ruthless in stepping over others? Why him?

        1. All of the above?

        2. ’cause the alternative was the senior Senator from New York?

  12. The physicist Luis Alvarez, in his autobiography, recommended burying nuclear waste underground, miles under the ocean. This would be done with a gravity torpedo–a length of heavy pipe with streamlined caps and fins. You drop it in a deep, stable spot in the ocean and it picks up speed and imbeds itself underground like a bunker buster bomb in Iraq. If it ever leaks, the effect should be trivial.

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  17. I think they should just shut down the plant, its better that way.

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