June 4th, 2008 by Max Lindberg
As promised in a podcast interview on February 11th,
Edward Sproat, manager of the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, filed a license application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Work at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been underway for two decades, preparing it for this next phase, licensing and actual construction of the facility. It was supposed to have been completed and receiving nuclear waste by 1998. The project has been stalled because of funding problems, allegations of misrepresented quality checks and never-ending legal challenges, which will undoubtedly continue to pile up.
The 8,600 page application calls for storing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in underground tunnels in the mountain. At present, there are more than 5,600 metric tons of waste being stored at 120 sites in 39 states.
Sproat says with funding and necessary approvals, the site could begin accepting nuclear waste by 2020. The project is expected to cost between $70 billion and $80 billion.
If completed, and to opponents that’s a very big “IF”, Yucca Mountain would be capable of storing 70,000 metric tons of waste. The Energy Department has already asked Congress to expand the repository if companies go ahead with construction up to 30 new reactor units by 2010.
Missing from the application is a final public radiation-exposure standard, or how effective the facility would protect the public from radiation leakage. The EPA’s standard was 10,000 years, but a federal court ruled the standard should be set at one million years, the time it would take some isotopes to become safe.
The application will undergo a 90-day review to determine if it’s complete, but that process could drag on for three and maybe four years.
What are the chances of this really happening?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,(D-NV) has successfully helped cut congressional funding for Yucca Mountain, and vows to do anything necessary to stop the project. Should Americans put a Democrat in the White House, and each house have a Democratic majority, some believe the Yucca Mountain project will become little more than a big hole in a Nevada mountain.
More information on the License Application and DOE’s Yucca Mountain Project is available at the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management’s website.
Image Credit: Mineral County Yucca Mountain Oversight Program
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