A Department of Energy plan to install thousands of titanium alloy drip shields in the distant future to keep water from corroding nuclear waste canisters inside Yucca Mountain has failed to convince Nevada officials that a repository, if built there, would be safe.
"NRC should reject out of hand any application from DOE that relies on highly speculative installation of drip shields," Bob Loux, executive director of Nevada's Nuclear Projects Agency wrote in a letter Tuesday to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein.
"DOE's claim that Yucca Mountain can meet applicable post-closure health and safety standards is precariously balanced on one slender and implausible assumption -- that 11,500 titanium-palladium alloy drip shields will be installed a hundred years or more from now. There is no safety net underlying this assumption," Loux says in his three-page letter.
Loux's conclusion is based on information that surfaced April 3 during a technical exchange between federal and state scientists in Las Vegas. Yucca Mountain is 100 miles northwest of the city.
"DOE's own calculations show that, without thousands of these titanium-palladium alloy drip shields to ward off dripping water and retard the inevitable corrosion of the waste packages, the project radiation dose to the public from leaking waste containers would soon exceed the EPA standard by a factor of ten," Loux wrote, referring to health and safety standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
An Energy Department spokesman for the Yucca Mountain Project, Allen Benson, responded to Loux's assertion, saying in an e-mail Tuesday that the department "looks forward to the review process."
"The design of the repository and the department's safety case will be included in the license application for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review," Benson wrote.
In his letter, Loux noted that installing expensive drip shields a century from now probably won't be possible because plans rely on using robots that have yet to be invented to install the 5-ton shields by remote control in hot, rock-strewn tunnels that will be highly radioactive.
What's more, the amount of titanium needed for 11,500 drip shields "would consume about a third to half of the world's current annual titanium production," Loux wrote.
"The availability of such quantities of this material a hundred years or more in the future is not something that anyone can assure with any confidence. That is even more the case with palladium, which is classified as a rare metal," he wrote.
Meanwhile, Nevada's congressional delegation issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for the Department of Energy to sever its ties with the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius regarding any additional work on the Yucca Mountain Project because of conflicts of interest.
Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and John Ensign, R-Nev., along with Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Jon Porter, R-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., sent a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman asking him to recuse the law firm because of conflicts cited in an inspector general's investigation.
"While the inspector general acknowledged that the department 'checked the boxes' in its procurement and did not break any laws, he also explained that DOE failed to provide adequate documentation of its decision to hire Morgan Lewis," the letter reads.
The Energy Department inspector general has said DOE's hiring of the firm under a contract potentially worth more than $100 million was inconsistent with its past practice of excluding bidders with conflicts.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.