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Yucca Mountain is Dead. Long Live Yucca Mountain!

Last October, during the Republican primaries, I made a prediction regarding the future of Yucca Mountain – namely, don’t bet on it. Not, of course, because it’s particularly deficient on a technical level (it’s not perfect, but you can judge the science that went into it for yourself.) But rather, the battle for Yucca mountain left its opponents holding the political high ground – particularly when even none of the Republican hopefuls would defend the site at risk of angering Nevada voters.

Yucca Mountain

Skip forward to today. Mitt Romney (last seen saying anything to the residents of Nevada that he think would lead to his election) has lost, meaning any possibility of a reversal of fortune for Yucca Mountain is pretty much dead in the water for the next four years (and likely now for all time).

Politically, not much has changed. Harry Reid still wields an inexplicable* position of influence over the Senate, and Obama still holds the presidency. Absent a surprise intervention by the Supreme Court on the Yucca licensing issue or a sudden change of heart by the residents of Nevada outside of Nye county (the potential host of Yucca Mountain, and generally more supportive overall of the project, namely because of the perceived benefits in terms of high-paying jobs and local investment which generally balance out perceived risks), it is unlikely anything much is going to happen.
(*One of my students in my Nuclear Waste Management class asked me how Harry Reid managed to ascend to such a position of influence from what is otherwise an inconsequential state – to which I had to answer, “I don’t know, it is beyond the scope of this class.” I really don’t have a good answer for this one.)

As an aside, relevant to this discussion is an interview in this month’s Nuclear News with Chairwoman Allison MacFarlane:

Q: Do you have technical concerns about a repository at Yucca Mountain, such as the rock form or the possibility of contact with an aquifer?

Let me explain. The technical analysis that I did on Yucca Mountain was in the pre-2002 time frame. Since then, in 2008, the Department of Energy submitted a license application. Then the NRC did some technical analysis. I haven’t looked at either of those. So I haven’t updated myself on the technical situation or on any new information that’s come in within the last 10 years. And so, as a careful scientist, I would hold off on making any judgment.

(Emphasis mine.)

On one hand, as a fellow scientist, I appreciate Dr. MacFarlane’s reticence toward commenting on a technical issue which she herself recognizes that she is not current on. On the other hand, it is somewhat distressing that the chairwoman of the NRC would not deign to familiarize herself with those very same findings.  (I realize that Dr. MacFarlane obviously has a very full agenda, but nonetheless given that her specialty with geologic disposal of nuclear wastes was one of her core competencies given for her nomination to head the agency, the fact that she has been an extremely outspoken critic of Yucca Mountain, and the fact that this is a timely and controversial topic facing her agency, one would think that she might find the time for a bit of… “light weekend reading…”)

Process matters

By this point, your response is probably something along the lines of, “Thanks for the update on News of the Obvious.” But to be honest, it seems like a great many people haven’t seemed to get the memo yet. Following a discussion on Jim Conca’s recent Forbes piece featuring WIPP (the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad, NM, which is responsible for handling military-origin transuranic wastes to be buried deep in salt bed caverns), the question was inevitably asked – “If WIPP is working, why can’t Yucca Mountain?”

Herein lies the problem. Debates over the technical details of Yucca aside (details which have been exhaustively studied for nearly two decades), it was never about technical feasibility. One of the most salient arguments I have tried to convey upon my students (and anyone else unfortunate enough to be caught within earshot) is that process matters. Again and again this has been emphasized – by myself and by the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission themselves. (As well as by social science experts – see for example, this decent op-ed by Chris Mooney on science communication right around the time Yucca faced the axe.)

WIPP worked namely because WIPP made sure to do the process right. From the start, WIPP focused on public engagement and local consent – trying to build understanding and consensus before they broke ground. And to that end, they’ve been remarkably successful. WIPP enjoys extremely high levels of support from the local Carlsbad community, largely in part due to the influx of high-paying jobs it has brought an otherwise very rural economy. And by committing to transparency and public oversight from the start, the WIPP project managed to soften much of the opposition which may have otherwise doomed such a project – namely because the public felt like both they had a say and that the process was fair and trustworthy. (Mind you, it is unlikely one will ever gain complete consensus – namely because there are some who persist in asserting that nuclear waste is an “unsolvable” problem and frankly have no interest in solving it…)

But far too often in the technical community, there is an attitude that this process can be circumvented. “Who cares what the unwashed masses think? We’re right and they’re not” – a fine ethos for a dictatorship run by scientists and engineers, a recipe for repeated and painful failure in a democracy. This is the attitude that I see prevailing each and every time I hear someone hammer on why we need to keep pushing on Yucca Mountain – either by forcing a showdown on the licensing process or some other means. And let me reiterate – on a technical basis, I think Yucca Mountain is a sufficient (not ideal, namely because it consigns otherwise recoverable resources to waste, but sufficient) solution.

Hell freezes over.
Here’s the problem – it’s off the table. There is about a snowball’s chance in hell of any of the following factors aligning to rescue Yucca Mountain right now: Chairwoman MacFarlane rescuing the Yucca Mountain license (previously withdrawn with prejudice by Secretary Chu), a sudden reversal in position by President Obama, an intervention by the Supreme Court to finish the Yucca Mountain licensing evaluation, a marked shift of opinion in the state of Nevada, or the sudden departure of Sen. Harry Reid.

Like it or not, the political deck has been stacked against Yucca. Perhaps why it’s so hard for technical folks to accept is because of this – it’s a victory of politics over science – and unabashedly so. But even assuming Yucca were never to have been derailed by an opportunistic president looking to make a deal with an influential senator, the problems at the core still remain – a process built on a foundation of rolling over state-level consent. It is hardly believable that the opposition which has escalated through the courts up until the 2010 would suddenly evaporate upon Yucca’s grand opening. Instead, it is far more likely that another decade of contentious (and expensive) lawsuits would have followed, bankrolled (in somewhat ironic fashion) by the same funds legally obligated to the state of Nevada for hosting the repository by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

$8 billion and all I got was this lousy blog post

Hence my point of emphasis to folks still pushing Yucca Mountain: he’s dead, Jim. Let this one go and start thinking about what to do right now while we begin the process again, this time hopefully learning something from our $8 billion lesson.

The sunk cost is perhaps what is hard for most to accept, particularly in the nuclear community. $8 billion is a high price to pay for learning to respect the process of siting a repository in equal measure to the level of technical effort that went into it. But again, this is where the hard-nosed realism of technical folks must prevail – what do you hope to do now? Wishing for a more favorable political situation won’t bring back your $8 billion or put a single fuel assembly into the ground. Instead, it’s going to require a hard gut check and some long thinking about where we go from here.

So what now?

Let me quote now from wisdom of the Bard Jagger:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need

Dry cask storage

In the short term, what is needed is some means of storing spent fuel, particularly from already-decommissioned sites (i.e., “orphaned fuel”) in a consolidated interim storage facility. Such a facility would be inherently temporary by nature, something which can be enforced by contractual penalties as a means of making such a site more attractive to the host community. Fuel would be kept in concrete storage casks, where it is currently safely licensed to be kept for periods of up to 60 years, and may potentially be safely stored for up to 100-200 years, following further study.

Meanwhile, the main upshot of such a move to interim storage is that it provides a workable solution for the time being until the process of siting a repository can be restarted (which it inevitably must be). This something both recommended by the BRC and is now being proposed by outgoing Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Whether it or not it goes anywhere in Congress is anyone’s guess (although it will likely and unfortunately be eclipsed by much of the talk of the coming “fiscal cliff.”)

My own feelings on interim storage have evolved somewhat over the years; it was not long ago that I was critical of such a strategy, namely because it felt like “kicking the can down the road” to future generations. But here’s the rub – as much as I generally favor strategies like reprocessing on the grounds of energy recovery, as far as economics go, it simply can’t compete with the cost of mining new uranium, even with the repository cost tacked on – and the requisite technologies like fast-spectrum reactors which can effectively transmute and fission long-lived actinides (thermal spectrum, “light water” reactors like those we run now aren’t particularly efficient at this) – simply aren’t here yet. In that sense, absent the infrastructure to reprocess and effectively burn all of the long-lived constituents of used fuel (not just plutonium), it may just make sense to let it sit around for awhile under well-monitored conditions. Even assuming technology never progresses forward, the end result is a cooler, less radioactive fuel that is less expensive to dispose of. (It is one of the few problems in life that manages to get cheaper the longer you wait.)

Such a position doesn’t necessarily sit perfectly with me – as a technical person, I have a bias toward action. (Which of course would be why my research focuses on advanced waste management and recovery strategies). But such a solution is certainly better than a complete failure of the federal government to meet its obligations to ratepayers (i.e., consumers of nuclear electricity) who have paid $30 billion over the last two decades to handle this problem, only to be met with nothing to show for it.

Siting even an interim storage for used fuel won’t be trivial – it will likely run into some of the same political challenges Yucca Mountain has faced, if the fate of the proposed Private Fuel Storage facility in Utah is any indication. (PFS has negotiated with a Native American tribe – the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Tribe – to host such a facility. Despite the fact that the facility is on tribal lands, the state of Utah has attempted to do everything in its power to block the proposed facility – namely by denying rail and road access.) But it may serve as a useful trial run for getting the process right when it comes to the “real thing,” i.e., siting a permanent geologic repository.

On a final note, I will be supervising my students’ end of semester projects this evening. The task I assigned them was to propose an amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, taking into account the failures of U.S. high-level waste management policy (including a technical analysis of their proposed alternatives compared to the “baseline” scenario). It should be interesting to see what they come up with.


Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 4, 2012

Yucca was killed as a political favor for Harry Reid's endorsement of Barack Obama. Safety concerns are vastly overblown, and the site would bring 7,000 jobs and hundreds of $millions to NV.

It's incalculably safer than storing waste on-site in 104 different locations across the US, and Hurricane Sandy made it clear that these sites are vulnerable.

Yucca will be revived before Obama's second term is over.

John Waters's picture
John Waters on Dec 5, 2012

I agree with your assessment on the fate of YMP..."It's Dead Jim."  I also agree with part of your diagnosis of the problem behind YMP's demise... politics. The question most Nevadans (R's & D's alike) immediately ask about the law that declared YMP as the destination for HLW is, "Oh you mean the screw Nevada Act?"  This legislation, in fact, was imposed on them in the 1980s by the politically powerful states with nuclear plants and high level waste left over from the states that built the nuclear bombs (many of which were test-detonated on Nevada soil), and signed into law by a resident of one of the most powerful nuclear power generating states in the nation- California.  Save the handful of people in Nye County, nobody in Nevada wants it there.

However, the science behind the long term viability of a high level nuclear waste repository built in a leaky, volcanic tuft formation above an aquifer that hydrologically connects to a drinking water system of a large nearby municipality (owned by Californians) is a little more problematic that just "not perfect."  Geologically speaking, there ARE better (i.e. more stabile, less susceptible to water intrusion, etc.) places to put this stuff and most geologists will tell you that.  This is especially true for permanent disposal of the useless (but still very dangerous) defense HLW and anything that does not have significant reprocessing value in the future.

Most lay people are just not that confident that YMP's engineered barriers would be sufficient for long term (10,000+ years) storage. Frankly, there has been no significant structure built by humans in our brief history that has even withstood 3500 years.  So to the average public, this is a very difficult concept to grasp and feel comfortable about. This has never been a subject the industry or scientists have been able to put to rest with the NV public, in part because of the lack of public outreach, but more in part to the fact that that public outreach lacks the facts that are necessary to allay the fears and concerns of the local public. 

Carlsbad, as an example highlighted by Dr. Conca, was very inquisitive of the same scientific issues as Nevadans are now (with regards to potential for waste exposure to the air and groundwater).  Fortunately, for the Carlsbad area, the science made a much stronger case of support for the geologic stability of the area and the salt formation for long term storage.  The fact that the salt heals itself and plastically creeps in to permanently entomb the waste is very convincing, as is the amount of supportive science that has since been done to confirm that salt and that location are ideal for nuclear waste disposal.  Much of that science was obtained during the 1980's and 1990's as a result of the national laboratories (Sandia and Los Alamos) following up on the valid "what-ifs" with scientific study.  The level is such that Sandia National Laboratory, which did significant study on thermal and radiologic affects on salt, has indicated to Congress last year that WIPP, which was designed and built with high level was in mind (hell, it even has a large fully functional hot cell), should be the nation's high level repository for defense HLW and the reprocessing wastes. 

With respect to Carlsbad's support for the WIPP facility, you are correct that high-paying jobs are important.  Carlsbad, however is in a municipal area that includes 42,000 people.  In terms of jobs, however, oil is the primary employer, potash mining is a close second, manufacturing is third, followed by the nuclear industry (which includes a  nearby enrichment plant, a new uranium hexafluoride deconversion plant, a planned national consolidated interim storage facility(owned by the local governments and to be operated by a team led by AREVA), two national laboratories, and WIPP).  Painting the community in this area as a less-than-sophisticated rural town with a few country bumpkins would be a grave distortion of the reality. There is a reason Carlsbad got WIPP open, despite the radical environmental groups that fought it - they are experienced, agressive politically, and well educated.   On any given day in Washington DC or the state capital Santa Fe, there are citizens there pushing for WIPP.  Whether it be in Senator Feinstein's or Senator Alexander's offices or in the DOE offices or the offices of the governor of Nevada, Carlsbad is out there educating the nation's leaders as to what they have there and what it could be.  Pretty impressive.  

Atomik Rabbit's picture
Atomik Rabbit on Dec 5, 2012

First of all, a very entertaining and informative post Steve.

When you cite "a dictatorship run by scientists and engineers", that is a close first approximation to the People's Republic of China, whose current ruling elite have largely been trained in those disciplines. They will be building Gen III LWRs, FBRs, and even MSRs more assiduously than any other nation. History will decide in 50 years which type of society has prevailed, theirs or the ones nominally ruled by the technically ignorant unwashed masses, but in reality manipulated by mass media and self-aggrandizing speachifiers.

Perhaps the most useful assignment you could give your students would be "learn Mandarin!"

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Dec 5, 2012

One assertion in this article that I can't understand is that the courts are unlikely to force the NRC to finish the license application.  I've been monitoring the industry news on this question quite carefully, and I've been told, by almost all sources, that the court is very likely to rule in favor of the plaintiffs (i.e., require NRC to finish licensing).

I've been suggesting, for some time, that the licensing process be finished, even if the project isn't persued.  This will show the public that there was (is) indeed a technically sound solution to the problem.  Given the $8billion that they've spent, they deserve an answer to the question as to whether Yucca was technically viable.  This will also disabuse much of the public of their *false* notion that nuclear waste is an intactable problem with no acceptable solutions.  This has been needlessly feeding opposition to nuclear power.  (Unlike a Yucca repository, the additional fossil fuel use that results from this baseless opposition does/will indeed inflict significant, tangible harm to public health and the environment).

One final point.  Harry Reid will not be around forever (this is likely to be his last term).  It remains true that the fastest path to a resolution of the nuclear waste "problem" is to wait for Harry to go and then proceed with Yucca Mountain.  The most disturbing recent trend is how everyone else (in both parties) seems to be giving up on Yucca, even though Reid's position is not permanent.

Anyway, we need to license it at least.  (And yes, NRC had found that it met all the impeccible technical requirements.)

Steve Skutnik's picture
Steve Skutnik on Dec 6, 2012

Ugh, double-post.

Steve Skutnik's picture
Steve Skutnik on Dec 6, 2012

Blorg - by no means did I mean disrespect to the extensive work that went into the YMP licensing process. (Mostly I referred to the Science & Engineering report because this itself was a relatively comprehensive study of the science that went into the project, and the one I was most familiar with. Obviously, I have some light weekend reading of my own to do...) Thanks for the link.

Steve Skutnik's picture
Steve Skutnik on Dec 6, 2012

Jim - I agree that I'd certainly like the licensing evaluation to be finished - if only for the same reasons, that the viability of YMP for meeting the technical performance requirements, clarifying that the choice to abandon it is for non-technical reasons. (However, I am uncertain as to how much an abandoned, if technically viable project would really convince the general public that the problem is actually being solved...)

With respect to the courts, here is the basis behind my reasoning - they theoretically could have ruled or provided injunctive relief for the license withdrawal the moment the Obama administraiton chose to pursue this course of action. Instead, if the D.C. Circuit court decision is any indication, their preference is to put off intervening as much as possible - i.e., the first time they ruled on it, they stalled until September 2011. Jazcko forced the closure of the licensing review over a year ago. Once again, the courts have had the opportunity to intervene - even by the direct admission of the D.C. Circuit Court decision. They've had over a year on what should be a legally obvious decision: either the NRC issues an up-or-down licesning vote, or they (and the administraiton) are in violation of the law. Waiting for relief from the courts is essentially Waiting for Godot. Legally, proponents of Yucca Mountain have always had the law on their side - but the courts have shown no inclination to actually provide relief, despite having been given more than adequate opportunity.

Further, I think waiting for Harry Reid to depart gets exactly to my point at why this is the wrong solution. The process behind the YMP site selection was fatally flawed, in that it short-circuited by the technical site selection process specified by the 1982 NWPA and it made an end-run around local consent. Even assuming you push the main legal obstacle out of the way (i.e., Harry Reid), there still exists a tremendously difficult problem that the project has come by rolling over state-level consent. I just don't see the tremendous issues of state-level opposition going away anytime soon. And much of the problem, as I see it, is in acting as if this is inconsequential.

Even (generously) assuming the stars align and the courts finally force a decision on Yucca Mountain, I would argue that given the tremendously long delays already experienced and those likely to happen, focusing more on ISFSI siting right now is the more important focus as it is. But either way, I just don't see many reasons for optimism on Yucca's prospects. At this point, it mostly feels like a waste of time.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Dec 7, 2012

While I agree that getting consent is desirable, I wonder if it's really worth starting from scratch and losing several decades.  There is also the question of what will happen if we don't get any takers.  That kind of puts the country in a box at that point, since the issue MUST be resolved at some point.  It may be one of those situations where the govt. has to do the right thing, even if it's unpopular.

It's not like there is no precedent.  We tried a similar (public consent) approach in the 1990s with LLW (the nuclear waste negotiator) and they literally got no takers, and that's for LOW level waste!  The good news is that we eventually managed to get a new site in West Texas (not far from Carlsbad, BTW).

Also of note is the fact that this is not an issue of steamrolling over the locals.  We've never had trouble getting local support.  The state govt. has always been the problem.  The state, overall, is too big to get significant benefit from the project (unlike the local area), but still feels stigmatized for being the one state chosen for the "dump".  All the places where they've succeeded in siting a repository (i.e., Scandanavia) have no state/provincial govts., only a federal and municipal (local) govts.  This is not a coincidence.

I don't think that finishing the license, anyway, would be a waste of time, especially given that there is almost no work involved.  NRC had finished its review and was about to conclude that the repository met all the technical requirements.  All it would really require is publishing that.  Yes, formally granting the license would involve years of litigation.  But simply releasing the NRC staff's technical conclusions would not, and that may be sufficient to show the public that the site was viable (especially if our industry actually made some effort to get that message out).

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Dec 7, 2012

Yes there are probably better sites, but Yucca was good enough.  DOE was able to show that it wouldn't pose any significant threat to public health or the environment, for as long as the waste remains hazardous, and NRC was about to agree.  This is something that is not required for any other waste stream.

How confident are you that toxic chemical dumps, coal fly ash piles, or even your local landfill will retain their wastes for as long as they remain hazardous?  And no, it's not true that those waste streams become harmless after vastly shorter time periods, or that the consequences of leakage are far lower.  It's just an arbitrary double standard.  Where are the 10,000 year analyses for all those other waste streams?  It's not that those waste streams can meet such a requirement.  They're not even asked.  The analyses aren't even done.  Coal ash isn't even categorized as a hazardous material for God's sake (a true testament to the undue political power of the coal industry).

I'm also having a hard time understanding why a NV resident would really, truly (honestly) care about what happens there over a thousand years in the future.  There must be something else to it.  He wouldn't have any more reason to care about those living in the Yucca area thousands of years from now than would a resident of say, New York (not like his descendents are any more likely to live there...)  And yet, Nevadan's are mainly opposed to the site, ostensibly for risks that won't occur for thousands of years, while the residents of far away states are for it.  Doesn't make sense.  Doesn't hold water.

I reject the notion that it has anything to do with anything technical.  That is, even if the site were perfect, both geologically and with respect to engineering features, and there was no doubt the waste would be contained, it wouldn't make one ounce of difference.  Nevadans would still feel singled out and stigmatized, for being the one state chosen as the Nation's nuclear dump, and there would be roughly the same degree of opposition.

My understanding of the real reason for the opposition is that the gaming industry (in Vegas) feared that some incident will happen, will be hyped up by the media, and will cause them to lose money from decreased tourism.  To be clear, it's not that they think that there will be an event that causes real harm.  They're afraid of the public reaction to it.  (Perfect circular logic, radiophobia justifying radiophobia).  So, they bankrolled opposition (candidates, etc...) to get the project stopped.  So yes, Virginia, it's all about money.  A selfish financial interest.  Screw the needs of the nation.

John Waters's picture
John Waters on Dec 10, 2012

Your assertion that the feds should roll over Nevada anyway because no one really cares what happens in a thousand or ten thousand is irresponsible and wrong.  It is also typical of what I hear from some of my colleagues far removed (on the east coast) about anything to do with environmental impacts out west "where no one wants to live."

Last time I checked (unless you don't consider it a state), Carlsbad is in the state of New Mexico and they have been operating a permanent nuclear repository for thirteen years.  I have read a report from the DOE EM that compares the lifetime cost of a "generic salt repository" (they used actual operational and construction numbers from WIPP) versus Yucca Mountain as designed. The report says that it is FAR cheaper to build a repository and dispose in salt (i.e. WIPP) than to build and put it in YMP. The study was done the year before the current president took office, so you can't blame the results on NV Harry and the Prez. 

Riding a dead horse, even a very expensive one, will not get you very far.  If a better solution is out there, why aren't we pursuing it?  Better yet, the State of New Mexico says they are open to the repository as long as the science is there to support the safety to people and the environment. Check out this article on Carlsbad and the state of NM about WIPP from Forbes:

It seems pretty obvious that the nation should move now to take advantage of the offer from New Mexico before it expires.  The nation should pay New Mexico an "impact" fee for the added highway maintenance and operational oversight, like they did for WIPP over the fifteen years before it expired in 2011.    




Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 11, 2012

Jim, your assessment is largely correct but the real reason for the death of Yucca is startlingly simple: Harry Reid was up for reelection in 2010, polls showed he was vulnerable and they also showed Yucca was a political loser. He backed Obama in the primaries in exchange for a promise to kill Yucca. None of this is public of course, but as I watched the dominoes fall for the 2008 presidential election it was obvious, and inevitable.

I spent 11 weeks in Nevada in 2004 campaigning for John Kerry. It was an important swing state, and because it was also an election year for Harry I ended up dropping a lot of pamphlets on doorsteps for him too. I met Harry; he's an amazing individual whose determination and strength belie his grandfatherly appearance (read sometime about how he went up against organized crime and was almost killed by a car bomb). I also spoke to many Nevadans about Yucca, and there was considerable  trepidation about the site even from those living far away. A couple in Henderson thought it could explode, and they would be exposed to fallout. Some of it was the result of antinuclear groups like Greenpeace exaggerating dangers, but there was also a leftover skepticism that was justified by the fallout Las Vegans were exposed to during above-ground testing in the 1950s.

I understand this is the way the political process works, and Harry Reid's support was an invaluable asset for Obama. In time, and with the state of the economy, I believe Nevadans will have a clearer picture of the risks, which are in truth inconsequential, and the very consequential financial benefits for the state. In practical terms there's nothing to suggest we won't be able to start pulling "waste" out of Yucca and reprocessing it within the next century. Yucca is too valuable, and the needs are too pressing, to simply let it fade away due to assumptions based on politics and ignorance.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Dec 12, 2012

I didn't say that people don't (or shouldn't) care what happens in Nevada thousands of years from now.  I just said that there is no reason why a current Nevada resident should care any MORE about such things than someone who lives elsewhere (making it clear that genuine concern about what happens that far in the future is not the main source of opposition).

Your comments, about people from the "east coast" and not recognizing NM as a state, actually make it pretty clear that feelings of stigmatization and being singled out (as the one nuclear "dumping ground") are the main source of opposition, as opposed to real, objective concerns about what happens many thousands of years from now.

My main suggestion was that they complete the license evaluation.  How is that "steamrolling" anyone.  It's just recording, and acknowledging the truth.  How could you, or anyone else, be opposed to that?  The public has the right to know whether Yucca was technically viable, especially given the billions that the public spent on the evaluation.

I agree with you that we should look into the "offer" from New Mexico.  That said, in terms of state support, I'll believe it when I see it.  As I've said, the state govt. is always the problem.  So they have local support.  So did Yucca!!  Also, while salt does indeed have better long term performance in terms of confinement, it raises other challenges, most notably the fact that the salt can not tolerate as high a temperature (on the canister surface), so heat from the spent fuel waste is an issue.  The transuranic waste buried at WIPP does not emit a significant amount of heat.

Although we should definitely pursue the Carsbad offer if we were to accept that Yucca is dead, starting back at the drawing board has some significant drawbacks.  This will delay resolution of the waste problem by several decades.  The result?  Several decades more of having the public falsely believe that there is no technical solution to the nuclear waste problem, resulting in decades more of baseless opposition to nuclear power, and significantly greater fossil fuel use over those decades, and beyond.  Again, having NRC approve Yucca, even if it doesn't go forward, will partially alleviate some of these negative consequences.

Irresponsible?  Wrong?  Hardly.  It is out of concern for public health and the environment that I and others like me advocate nuclear in general, and a quick resolution to the nuclear waste problem (i.e., going ahead with Yucca).  We are concerned with health and environmental impacts both over the short term and the very long term.  Over both the short and long term, the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity (especially coal) is orders of magnitude worse than nuclear energy.  It would be tragic if use of nuclear is significantly curtailed over (non) issues like this.

Atomik Rabbit's picture
Atomik Rabbit on Dec 17, 2012

To Steve and NNadir, especially - I know you read extensively on the chemistry of reprocessing. 

I just got introduced to this: “Nitrogen Trifluoride Based Fluoride-Volatility Separations Process: Initial Studies”,

Have you come across this? What do you think?

Steve Skutnik's picture

Thank Steve for the Post!

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