06 March, 2009

On the subject of desert mountain ranges...

This was an interesting bit over at the The Vine.

Whatever your stance on nuclear power in general, this move prompts interesting policy questions. Because the government has the legal obligation to accept and store spent nuclear fuel, what to do without Yucca Mountain? Transportation of waste wasn't slated to begin until around 2017, pending certain legislation--which is now pretty much kaput. Looking at that time frame, what short-term options do we have about which Mr. Chu is so confident? As I understand it, there is a substantial cooling period for these spent fuels where they essentialy must remain on site--and even after that the main storage problem is the latent btu's canisters will crank out, necessitating certain space and ventilation regulations. Currently operating nuclear facilities are equipped to deal with their own waste for now, but at +2000 tons a year nationally that won't last. And really, they went into business with the expectation that the government would be taking it off their hands at some point.

I'd like to see some specifics from Obama and the Energy Dept. about their alternatives. I know that Nevada wasn't entirely happy about Yucca, but we've invested billions and years into the project that by all accounts would be an acceptable storage facility--why scrap it now? Looking to the future, I suppose it makes some sense that the taxpayer who is enjoying the cheap nuclear energy should share in the cost of storing and transporting the waste. I expect that as time goes on even with that small extra cost nuclear power will be cheaper than any fossil fuels. Then there's the classic "not in my backyard" objection--which is entirely valid in this situation. Allison Macfarlane in the first linked article points out the three requirements for good storage facilities--and I'll submit that Inglis, the author, is not entirely correct in his assessment that Yucca only meets one. It is in an isolated hydrological basin, yes, but it is not in a tectonically active area, and I don't know why the environment couldn't be made into a non-oxidizing one (isn't that the purpose of developing the facility beyond just a hole in the ground?).

I just wonder if the administration has a better, cheaper place in mind already, of it they may be stalling to figure something out in the meantime. At any rate, some interesting things to come, I'm sure.

Update: Boyce Watkins was on WPR and couldn't answer my question--they told me they'd talk about it next week...

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