A do-over for Yucca Mountain?


A blue-ribbon commission assigned by President Barack Obama in January 2010 to come up with an alternative to the planned nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain will recommend at least one new site be found to store waste left over from the nation's nuclear power plants, sources told The Washington Post on Thursday.

The report urges creation of a new federal corporation to manage the site, rather than turning it over to the Energy Department, which is responsible for managing nuclear waste, the Post reported. And it recommends guidelines for a selection process -- such as giving local communities, but not states, the power to veto a facility.

Many members of the commission believe New Mexico, which already has a nuclear waste storage facility, might prove more receptive than Nevada to a federal site.

The group also recommends finding an interim site for waste now being stored at 10 closed reactors in nine different sites. The commission said there would be fewer security risks if the waste were stored in one place.

Over a period of decades, electric utilities with nuclear power plants paid about $23 billion in fees to the federal government to finance the repository, and substantial, costly preparation was done at Yucca Mountain. With plans to open Yucca Mountain stalled, some of those utilities have now filed lawsuits to recover their money.

Opponents of Yucca have expressed concern over possible corrosion, water contamination and earthquake hazards.

The report contains no dissenting opinions, but members of the commission could not reach agreement on whether to move ahead with reprocessing of spent fuel, a process used today in France, the Post reported. Even members who favored reprocessing admitted they do not believe it could eliminate or significantly reduce the need for waste storage over the next three decades.

(Three decades! Thank goodness J. Robert Oppenheimer didn't have to deal with "Evironmental Impact Statements" when Gen. Groves asked him if he could come up with an atomic bomb in three years.)

So that's the advice of the greatest minds Energy Secretary Steven Chu could pull together at the behest of President Obama? Taking us all the way back to square one?

While America has enough coal to meet most of our energy needs for a century, nuclear power seems likely to remain part of our portfoilio. "Spent" nuclear fuel still contains enormous reserves of energy. Of course reprocessing deserves serious study.

Meantime, the whole top-down model for imposing the waste site on "whoever squawks least" is wrongheaded. Should spent fuel be stored in some Louisiana bayou because the poor folks there protest the least? Of course not. That's not how Alaskans were convinced to accept the big oil pipeline from the North Slope. They were paid.

The prospect of starting this decades-long process again is pathetic and indicative of what a folly it's been since the beginning.

 

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