Having faced stiff opposition since its inception, the national Yucca Mountain Repository, an underground storage facility for nuclear waste in Nevada, won't open for at least a decade.
In the early days of nuclear energy, dealing with radioactive waste seemed like an afterthought, and a stickling point, of the industry and its well-wishers. It soon became clear that not too many people wanted it in "their backyards." As a result, the waste has remained near the nuclear power plants that produce it. Many people, including scientists at the National Academy of Science, had recommended a single, safe and well-protected place for it.
The U.S. stopped reprocessing nuclear fuel during the late 1970s by order of President Jimmy Carter, who wanted to curtail the availability of the weapons-grade material produced by the process. This decision turned what had been a resource back into a waste product, and "made the lack of a viable long-term disposal strategy for radioactive waste even more apparent," according to a Carnegie Mellon University paper:
A 1987 Congressional amendment to the Nuclear Waste Repository Act of 1982 mandated consideration of only one location, Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Since the act required that the [Department of Energy] DOE establish a permanent repository, the elimination of all other sites from review meant that Yucca Mountain was named as the location before the feasibility studies and environmental assessments had been completed. As might be expected, this situation has bred major litigation as well as significant opposition from forces in the state of Nevada.
The waste is currently stored at individual plants, awaiting permanent transfer to the national Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. But Yucca Mountain has faced stiff opposition and won't open for at least a decade.
The DOE has announced plans to open the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada as the nation's permanent underground storage facility for radioactive nuclear waste by 2017, when the facility is expected to begin accepting nuclear waste.
This date assumes full necessary funding is provided, there are no litigation delays, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) completes review of the License Application within three years of submission, and the NRC finds that the DOE has the necessary nuclear quality and safety culture.
Polls indicate that a notable number of Nevadans are against the repository. Although about 15 percent of Las Vegas' electricity for over two million people is supplied by the Palo Verde nuclear station in Arizona and about half the waste will be from America's manufacture of nuclear weapons, a two-thirds' majority of state residents still feel it is unfair for their state to have to store nuclear waste when there are no nuclear power plants in Nevada.
No one lives at Yucca Mountain, according to the project's Web site, which says, "The closest year-round housing is about 14 miles south of the site ."
One of the fears of water users in the Western U.S is leakage of radioactive particles from the Yucca Mountain site. In the West, water is precious, and perhaps with droughty weather, getting more so.
According to Eureka County's Board of Commissioners and the DOE, the waste will be encased in a multilayer stainless steel and nickel alloy package covered by titanium drip shields that function also as rock shields.
Plans are for the nuclear waste to be shipped to the site by rail and/or truck in robust containers approved by the NRC. The transport of spent fuel in Europe and Asia is routine with few safety or security issues. Globally, train, truck and ship have already transported over 70,000 MTU (metric tons of uranium) of spent fuel.
In 2002, the Yucca Mountain Repository Project completed its site characterization activities. Also that year, Congress and the President approved the development of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain. These approvals were based on two extensive scientific reports: the Yucca Mountain Science and Engineering Report, which describes the science and engineering completed during site characterization activities; and the Yucca Mountain Site Suitability Evaluation, which describes the information that supported the Secretary of Energy's evaluation of whether Yucca Mountain is a suitable site for a repository.
In March 2006, the majority staff of U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued a 25-page paper called Yucca Mountain: The Most Studied Real Estate on the Planet. The conclusions:
Extensive studies consistently show Yucca Mountain to be a sound site for nuclear waste disposal.
The cost of not moving forward is extremely high.
Nuclear waste disposal capability is an environmental imperative.
Nuclear waste disposal capability supports national security.
Demand for new nuclear plants also demands disposal capability.
Last month a Senate subcommittee voted to cut $50 million from Yucca Mountain spending in 2008, but its chairman said the DOE still should be able to meet the project's goals for the coming year, reported The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The House bill will fully fund Yucca Mountain, suggesting the final budget may be relatively close to the DOE request unless opponents force deeper cuts before final passage.
The $444.5 million Yucca Mountain budget proposed by the energy and water appropriations subcommittee amounts to a 10 percent slash in the current administration's request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The cost to continue storing nuclear waste at their respective plants is estimated to be anywhere from $200 billion to $400 billion.
ResourcesThe Western New York Nuclear Service Center (The West Valley Site)
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
Radioactive Waste Management: An Environmental History Lesson for Engineers (and Others)
by M. Joshua Silverman
Carnegie Mellon University History Department
Eureka County Yucca Mountain Information Office Nuclear Waste Update
by Abby Johnson and Sarah Walker, Winter 2007
SNWA's Water Efficient Technologies Program Surpasses 1 Billion Gallons Saved
Southern Nevada Water Authority, May 8, 2007
YUCCA MOUNTAIN: Waste site request cut
by Steve Tetreault
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 27, 2007
Nevada Study Shows Yucca Mountain Project Will Cost Much More than Storing Nuclear Waste at Existing Reactor Sites
Office of the Governor Agency for Nuclear Projects, Feb. 8, 2007