Ghost of Yucca Mtn returns to haunt Sen. Harry Reid

The release of a long sequestered technical report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may put the site back on the road to a license.

halloween_pumpkinJust when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thought it was safe to return to his home state of Nevada, and not talk about Yucca Mountain, the federal career civil servants who’s work he’s tried to stifle on numerous occasions, released the 3rd in a series of five planned volumes that together will make up the Safety Evaluation Report (SER). It is a predecessor step towards issuing a license for the site to received spent nuclear for permanent geologic disposal. When complete the report will establish the technical basis for licensing the facility. (NRC Press Statement)

See also the New York Times coverage for Oct 16 which has a good overview of how things got to where they are today, including the huge financial penalties the government has  paid nuclear utilities for botching the spent fuel issue.

Leaving aside the fact that deep geologic disposal of once through spent nuclear fuel is a truly dumb idea, because of the remaining energy potential in it, the latest development related to Yucca Mountain will undoubtedly turn into a partisan political battle.  Republicans see a chance to criticize President Obama who owes his two election victories in part to Harry Reid delivering Nevada’s votes.

In return Obama backed Reid’s opposition to Yucca Mountain and greased the skids for the appointment of a former Reid aide, Gregory Jaczko, to head the NRC politicizing a traditionally technocratic post at the regulatory agency. Jaczko resigned before the end of his first term due to his erratic management style.

Meanwhile, there is no pressure on the Department of Energy to pursue the license application, nor does it appear the agency even wants one. The NRC has issued a “waste confidence rule” which says it is safe to store spent nuclear fuel at the nation’s reactors for decades into the future. As the nation’s current fleet retires, an increasing inventory of spent fuel will remain at the closed sites.

Vermont Yankee selects SAFSTOR

Entergy Vermont Yankee announced Oct 17 that it will use the NRC’s SAFSTOR remediation option to shut down the plant. Vermont greens, who dreamt of the day when the reactor would go away, got a rude shock when they learned this means that, according to NRC regulations, Entergy could take up to 60 years to clean up the site. The spent fuel from the reactor will remain at the site for the entire period unless the U.S. government comes up with another plan for dealing with it.

The site assessment study also revealed cost for cleaning up the site is $1.24 billion. This money will come out of the decommissioning fund for the plant.

The $1.24 billion includes $817 million for costs associated with terminating the NRC operating license, $368 million for spent fuel management and $57 million for site restoration.

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3 Responses to Ghost of Yucca Mtn returns to haunt Sen. Harry Reid

  1. Both the closing of Entergy’s Vermont Yankee reactors, and the wasteful idea of burying slightly used nuclear fuel rods (it’s not “spent”. there’s plenty of fissile content), are lousy ideas.
    The future of energy technology, as China’s rulers have even decreed, is nuclear breeder reactors.
    The USA pioneered two such paths, one of which (the LTFR) was abandoned because Nixon’s AEC correctly told hiim it wasn’t much good fo making bombs, and the other, the IFR, because Clinton and Kerry wrongly thought that the plutonium produced could be used to make bombs. But it is entirely consumed by the reactor in due course, never released as waste (never wasted), and useless for bomb making unless you’re smart enough to know easier ways of getting bomb grade plutonium.

    The NRDC’s report from the EIA’s 2012 energy data on electrical power reveal very clearly the huge discrepancy in toxic emissions between coal, gas, and nuclear. “Renewables” are also quite clearly ineffective. If a snail learns to travel twice as fast, it’s still not going to catch up with a walking lapdog, let alone a greyhound.


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