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Yucca Mountain Remains Stalled

Nuclear waste: Site safety confirmed, but construction not recommended

by Jessica Morrison
February 9, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 6

Credit: DOE
Yucca Mountain is safe, but licensing hurdles remain, says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Credit: DOE
Yucca Mountain is safe, but licensing hurdles remain, says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Department of Energy’s plan for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, is technically sound, but several steps remain before construction can be recommended, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said last week.

NRC staff released the final two volumes in an extensive five-part safety evaluation, finding no concerns that would preclude the site from receiving nuclear waste. However, the report recommends that the commission should not yet authorize construction because “DOE has not met certain land and water rights requirements.”

DOE still needs to acquire rights to the land on which Yucca Mountain sits. Those rights, which are currently held by several other federal agencies, must be redesignated for the repository by Congress. The department must also secure water rights to the surrounding area from the State of Nevada.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a longtime opponent of the Yucca Mountain project, argues that the proposed repository is a dangerous idea that should be shelved.

“It is flawed because DOE lacks the required land and water rights and has no reason to expect that it will obtain them in the future,” Reid says. “This project will never see the light of day, and everyone should accept that and move on.”

But proponents from states where nuclear waste is being stored until agreement on a long-term solution is reached are hopeful in light of NRC’s safety determination.

“To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that appropriates funding for energy and water development. “There is no reason Congress shouldn’t make Yucca Mountain part of the solution to end the stalemate on nuclear waste.”

More than 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at nuclear power plants across the U.S. The proposed repository at Yucca Mountain is intended to isolate the waste long term to protect human health and the environment. DOE submitted its application in 2008 to begin construction.



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Geoff Lindsay (February 9, 2015 3:30 PM)
It's time to get this beastie approved! What are the hurdles to clear for water rights?
Scott Rausch (February 9, 2015 3:37 PM)
Considering everyone who uses power supplied by nuclear power plants already has paid multiple times over for this project, the only insanity is that government has allowed it to be delayed because another government entity owns a part of it. If this was owned by and fought against the government by private property owners, it would have been forced through. Just get it done and move on.
R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. (ret.) (February 9, 2015 4:22 PM)
In the run up to WWII, there was concern that most of America's gold was stored in banks along our East Coast. It offered a temping target for German invasion. The White House ordered train loads, most of our gold, to be shipped to Fort Knox Kentucky and stored beneath Gen. Patton's Third Armored Division. It took ninety days. It is still there, safe and sound.

Yucca Mountain was, by law, to be opened "on or before January 1, 1998" in order to safely store 70,000 of high level waste, basically spent fuel. DoE and the NRC have reviewed this facility for some 30+ years, since DOE owns the stuff once it leaves a nuke. As we stand, this lethal material is stored temporarily all over the US; It is a prime national security threat to our existence. It must be put in a deep grave.

The money has been spent, yet we have not gotten one dime of benefit from this fiasco.

Can anyone imagine Gen Patton, serving under President Roosevelt taking 30 years to safely move a number of freight cars across America? Yet Senator Reid has successfully stymied this effort since he was a young man.

Dead people move faster than our government, and drunken sailors can not waste as much as Congress does.
Byron Winchell (February 9, 2015 8:42 PM)
Now that the U.S. Senate is no longer Sen. Reid's fiefdom cum hostage, we might see actual progress after the expenditure of so many billions.
SC Masterchef (February 10, 2015 2:47 PM)
Harry Reid is the entire holdup in the finalization of Yucca Mountain. The stop work at Yucca is solely due to the personal ambitions of Harry Reid and his manipulation of the office that he holds. The closure of the Yucca Mountain project was solely political manuevering of President Obama to gain Harry Reid's voting of other Obama bills. The site of Yucca is in the middle of the desert with an average rainfall of <2" per year and therefore not a groundwater issue. It is all a political game of power and control of the system. When Harry Reid is gone there will not be an issue.
Ken Baer (February 12, 2015 12:52 PM)
I have been a proponent of YM for years, visited the site, went into the excavation and looked at both sides of the mountain from Yucca Crest. The geologist guide who had worked on the project for years explained to the group how Yucca Mountain was formed by a huge lava flow missions of years ago. Since then the any form of potential volcanic activity has successively moved downrange in Nevada, passed Death Valley, CA and beyond. This said, YM is one of the most stable formations we would want to use. Electric Utilities paid upwards of $50 Billion dollars of rate payers money to securing this (the studies have been done and show that it is by far the best place to store HIGH-LEVEL radioactive waste) site. Starting with Morris Udall, one of the biggest obstructions against anything nuclear, against the benefit for mankind, a politician not a scientist, and others American Progress has been stifled. It is sad no other champion has held up the banner. This is one the best places to store HIGH-LEVEL radioactive waste in the world. The Europeans would like to have just such a place. The media has never helped - IT IS AN ENGINEERED REPOSITORY, NOT A DUMP. This is important to forming a picture in the "minds eye" when the media talks about it in the press. Why? Because with you say "dump" people get the idea of a, you know...dump, where waste is strewn everywhere and barrels of radioactive waste are released, unattended, uncontrolled, to the environment. One more point. Many in Congress don't even know, but YM was never meant to store NUCLEAR SPENT FUEL RODS. The Department of Energy failed on two counts (1) securing Yucca Mountain, and (2) processing commercial nuclear spent fuel. There it is folks; DOE was supposed to have taken spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and processed it to several end product categories. The SMALL VOLUME HIGH-LEVEL radioactive waste (very manageable) was to have been immobilized, as we are doing with Weapons Grade HIGH-LEVEL waste today at the Savannah River Site (DWPF) Defense Waste Processing Facility. The waste is sealed in canisters for storage. So instead of storing the SNF rods (larger volume) DOE was supposed to have already built and processed the fuel to a lower volume of waste and put it in engineered canisters, and for these canisters to be stored in YM. You have the rest of the story.

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