Why is there no permanent nuclear dump in the US

This undated February 22, 2004 image shows the entrance to the Mount Yucca nuclear waste storage facility located in Nye County, Nevada, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

AFP | AFP | beautiful pictures

The federal government has fund 44.3 billion dollars dedicated to the expenditure of a permanent nuclear waste disposal facility in the United States.

It started collecting money from energy clients for the fund in the 1980s, and it’s currently earning about $1.4 billion in profit per year.

But plans to build a site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, have been marred by state and federal politics, and lack the political will to find other solutions. As a result, the United States does not have the infrastructure to dispose of radioactive nuclear waste in one deep geological repository, where it can gradually lose radioactivity over thousands of years without causing harm.

However, with the effects of climate change becoming increasingly evident, investors and some political activists are renewing their interest in nuclear as an energy source that does not emit carbon dioxide that heats up. climate. That is forcing proponents to face the waste conundrum once again.

How Nevada Became the Link of the Garbage Story

The National Assembly establishes the Nuclear Waste Fund 1982, which requires anyone receiving part of their electricity from nuclear power to pay a small fee to dispose of the waste.

Between 1982 and 1987, the Department of Energy explored nine sites for permanent waste disposal, and eventually reduced that list to three. Mount Yucca in Nevada is the first choice, with locations in Washington and Texas at the top of the list. Some members of Congress were concerned that analyzing multiple sites would be too costly, and so in 1987 Congress amended the 1982 law to focus all of its attention on Mount Yucca.

Rod McCullum, senior director of decommissioning and fuel use at Nuclear Energy: “Some would say that Congress made a prudent choice, but others would say Yucca was selected. early because the Nevada delegation had the least political influence on the Hill,” the Institute, told CNBC.

“Over time, the latter view tends to prevail, and the 1987 Amendment is now commonly known as the ‘Nevada screw’ bill,” said McCullum.

The 1987 Amendment also established a program to find temporary storage solutions, Steve Nesbit, President of the American Nuclear Association, told CNBC. Nesbit said some Nuclear Waste Fund money was spent on that effort, but that project was shut down in 1994 because it didn’t work.

In 2002, the then-President was George W. Bush sign a resolution established the Yucca Mountain archive, but Barack Obama campaign against it, and eventually cut funding for Mount Yucca in its 2010 budget.

The political opposition in Nevada “probably wouldn’t have made a difference if Senator Reid hadn’t become such a powerful political figure, but he did and used his influence to stop it.” project,” Nesbit told CNBC. “Unfortunately, Mount Yucca, like so many things, has become a partisan affair, making it a lot harder to get things done.”

After 2014, the federal government was forced to stop collecting money for the Nuclear Waste Fund because legal judgment. Nuclear power plant owners and operators have protested the Department of Energy’s collection of the fees, arguing that bidders should not be paying into the fund when the United States does not have a viable option of where to dispose of the charges. perpetual disposal of spent fuel.

Between all stops and starts, the money in the Nuclear Waste Fund has been put back into the general fund and is being used for other purposes, said Frank Rusco of the Government Accountability Office. To use the funds for their original purposes, Parliament will require new authorizations and allocations, he said.

This can make it difficult to build an archive, says Rusco.

Jim Geary, facility manager at the Waste Receiving and Handling Facility (WARP), examines a shipment of three TRUPACT shipping containers on the Hanford Nuclear Reserve June 30, 2005 near Richland, Washington. Each container contains 14 55-gallon transuranic waste (TRU) drums that have been processed and will be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

Jeff T. Green | Getty Images News | beautiful pictures

Reason for optimism

Since the federal government does not establish a permanent repository for its radioactive nuclear waste, it has to pay utility companies to store it themselves. Currently, nuclear waste is mainly stored in dry barrel on the location of current and former nuclear power plants across the country. So far, the system is working, and in 2014 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the industry’s main watchdog, said that Current storage technology will suffice for 100 years.

“We’ve loaded over 3,000 of these systems since 1986,” McCullum told CNBC. “And we haven’t had a problem. And nothing’s wrong. No radiation has been released.”

“It should be noted that just because the NRC thinks the storage systems will be replaced after 100 years, doesn’t mean they have to be,” says McCullum. If a utility applies for a license from the NRC that exceeds 100 years, the NRC will have to review its analysis. “Fortunately, we have until 2086 to figure that out. I certainly hope that processing will be available by then.”

As of September 30, the government has paid 9 billion dollars to utility companies about their temporary storage costs, and the Department of Energy’s Agency Financial Statements estimates it will cost an additional $30.9 billion until the permanent waste disposal option is complete. in the United States.

Rusco says that estimate is likely to be low.

However, the tide may be turning back in search of more permanent solutions.

On November 30, the Office of Nuclear Energy at the United States Department of Energy released a Formal “inquiry” for a temporary, but consolidated, nuclear waste storage in the US

Unlike a permanent storage facility, which involves digging deep into the ground, a temporary facility will simply keep all the dry bins together in one place, as opposed to distributing them throughout. country. In some cases, local nuclear plants have been completely disassembled – but the waste remains on site. Consolidating it will at least save costs.

“Then it just takes a security force and a maintenance team and an operations team and on top of that, it’s going to be much more efficient,” Nesbit told CNBC. “What they’re doing is trying to start small and eat the elephants one piece at a time instead of all at once.”

NEI’s McCullum says the slow pace of the permanent storage solution isn’t an issue. “You’re designing something that will be protected for millions of years. It doesn’t matter if it takes decades to figure it out,” he said.

Meanwhile, growing concern about climate change has created new impetus for advanced nuclear reactor, promises to be safer and more efficient than conventional designs. That means there’s also renewed interest in figuring out the waste problem.

“The timelines for these are pretty long compared to what we’re used to in a world of instant gratification. But overall, I’m optimistic,” Rob Howard, national technical director for Integrated Waste Management based at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He spent two decades of his career working in the engineering department of Mount Yucca, which was once most widely touted for its potential for permanent treatment.

What’s more, some extreme aversion to nuclear power appears to be dissolving, Nesbit said.

“That visceral concern, involving all things nuclear, is something that arose primarily from people who grew up during the Cold War era and the time frame of the 1970s, where the anti-nuclear movement people really feel clear,” Nesbit said. Younger people are “a lot more open to new and innovative ideas.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Left, and Senator John Ensign, R-Nev., testified at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Project hearing.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | beautiful pictures

More stagnation in front of Mount Yucca?

Other experts believe that the DOE’s request for information on an interim solution is nothing more than a bureaucratic display to prevent the creation of a permanent Yucca geological waste repository. inevitable.

“Sadly it’s all political. This could have been done. If it weren’t for the 6 electoral votes of Nevada and Harry Reid, we would have built the archives by now.” Andrew Kadak, a professor in the nuclear science and engineering department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a consultant for nuclear power plant decommissioning.

The National Association of Utility Regulators, a nonprofit that represents state public service commissions that regulate utilities, took the stalled investigation into Mount Yucca to court, arguing that DOE and NRC required to complete The official review that they started, there is no political conspiracy. In August 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision directed the NRC to continue the licensing process for Mount Yucca.

In May 2016, the NRC issued a final supplemental report on Mount Yucca finding that the risks associated with the proposed concerns about groundwater pollution, one of Reid .’s controversial points, would be “small.”

The DOE’s recent move to solicit feedback to find a new location is a delaying tactic, said Kadak.

“Even when the consent-based selection process begins, I don’t see any state volunteering,” Kadak said.

Mount Yucca is the logical and best solution, says Kadak.

“If I were president, I would suggest restarting Yucca Mountain, because it’s an acceptable site, it has been technically evaluated by the NRC, and is ready for a licensing hearing,” said Kadak. speak.

For now, however, the Department of Energy is adamant that Mount Yucca is a no-go.

“The Administration has made it clear that Mount Yucca is not a viable solution. Congress has not provided any funding for Mount Yucca in over 10 years,” a spokesman for the Office of Nuclear Energy said. with CNBC.

Nesbit doesn’t expect that to change: “There’s no telling what the vote on Mount Yucca will look like today, but it’s a moot point – the political leadership will never allow a vote. such votes.” Why is there no permanent nuclear dump in the US

Emma James

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