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The Lindberg Report Podcast: Massive Layoffs Due at Yucca Mountain

sproad.jpgAmid increased activity signaling a possible resurgence of interest in nuclear power facilities, comes word from Nevada that isn’t at all surprising.

Ward Sproat, shown in the Las Vegas Review-Journal photo at the left, is director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, and announced Tuesday that Yucca Mountain in Nevada is still a long way from receiving any spent nuclear fuel. Sproat told Nevada’s Legislative Committee on High-Level Nuclear Waste, that lack of funding will result in significant worker layoffs at the facility. He is quoted as saying, “They’re going to come in waves”.

Podcast, if you’d rather listen: yucca-layoffs.mp3

The program has 2,400 full-time employees, a number that will shrink, as Sproat put it, “by the hundreds.” He is quoted as saying, “at least 500 people would be removed from the program in the next several months, the majority in Nevada, some in New Mexico from Sandia (National) Labs.”

On top of that, Sproat doubts a licensing application will be submitted this summer as previously anticipated. It was hoped the facility would be licensed and operational by 2017, but this latest news casts serious doubt on those plans.

What does this mean for the nation’s high-level waste repository? Sproat says the first deliveries of 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel probably won’t arrive at the facility in 2017. As a matter of fact, he isn’t certain the facility will even be licensed for some time to come.

The reason for the budget crunch apparently lies with Congress, who cut $108 million in funding from the 2008 budget. The Bush administration had asked for $494.5 million, and Congress responded with $386.5 million.

Sproat says the tunnel’s ventilation system was shut down in December to save on what he termed “substantial” electrical bills. It cost $3 million last year to keep the lights on, provide water and maintenance at the site.

Also on the chopping block, at least for the time being, is construction of a rail line across east-central Nevada to deliver the spent fuel. Sproat said there’ll be no rail delivery system in place by 2016 as planned.

Waste, according to Sproat, will not arrive at Yucca Mountain by 2017.

The state, which has been fighting the project for years, has a list of more than 25 concerns about the project. Nevada officials claim the Department of Energy’s repository design is only about 40% complete, and the agency has failed to fully address concerns about terrorism and sabotage in the transport of high-level nuclear waste products across the nation.

Earlier concerns about Yucca Mountain have clouded the issue even more, primarily discovery of an earthquake fault that runs directly beneath one of the areas designated for storage.

So, it looks like we’ll continue to pile up tons of high-level nuclear waste with no place to go but in deep-water pools and huge casks basking in the sunlight.

If you want a really good read on Yucca Mountain, I recommend the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s archive, where you’ll find this article, and a list of stories going back five years. You’ll have plenty of material to research.

Well, once again, here we are folks, piling up high-level, dangerously radioactive nuclear waste by the ton, and no place to go but in populated areas of not only our country, but around the world.

For the bleeding hearts who can’t wait to put another nuclear reactor on line, I can only wish you’d put more energy into finding a solution for waste management, and less into contributing to the problem.

Or, do you really think there is a problem with high-level nuclear waste, keeping in mind the ever-present “Oops Factor” that bedevils our every enterprise? I’d like to know. Change my mind.




9 comments
  1. Jim47

    Joffan: it’s a little peculiar, but your post wasn’t displayed when I wrote my previous post, despite posting two hours before mine. In any event…

    WIPP: good point! For those who want to avoid researching the wrong acronym, here’s a link: http://www.wipp.energy.gov. As with most government websites, it isn’t very well designed. I suggest hitting the “News and Information” link in the blue bar below the header, and then scrolling down to the “Fact Sheets” link. Lots of the information is in PDF format, so I hope that you either have Adobe Reader, or else use Firefox and the PDF-HTML converted add-on. Click on “What is Plutonium”, if you don’t know much about trans-uranic elements. I *STRONGLY* recommend reading this; it is not “government drivel”; it is solid science, at the consumer level. Despite all the posturing by extremists of all types, plutonium, when just “sitting there”, is pretty benign stuff. It is extremely easy (and, more-importantly from a politician’s PoV, cheap) to shield radiation from it.

    In concept, and in practice so far, this is a great project. As with any waste-disposal facility, there will be a time when it will fill up, but that is likely far beyond the lifetimes of our grandchildren. Why this facility has been restricted to military-generated waste is beyond me. I don’t have any answers, only the thought that, at the time (more than 20 years ago) when this facility was authorized, it was felt that opening the facility to commercial disposal would compromise its security. I would think that we might be past that point, now. If this project were opened to commercial waste, perhaps Yucca Mountain would, in fact, not be needed.

  2. Jim47

    I’m a Green, and have been for over a decade. Not that it has meant a whole lot, even in California. And I always vote the person, never the party. I despise people who vote a straight party line merely because they think they should. What drivel!

    In any case, thank you, Max. It is always nice when people on opposite sides of an issue can agree on some things 🙂 And Noelle, it would be nice, but until such time as pure research can fund itself, it will always be at the (at least partial) mercy of either government or industry, or both.

    What really worries me is the blog directly above this one: if Hillary becomes President, she says she’ll completely shut down Yucca Mountain. Now *that* is really forward-thinking, change-driven policy, isn’t it (he says with extreme sarcasm)?

    In any event, the concerns about growing piles of spent rods is genuine, and I agree completely that it cannot be ignored. At some point, Society (with a Capital ‘S’) has to start making some seriously-difficult decisions. We cannot continue as we have been. In some ways, the nuclear energy issue, as big as it is, is pretty small potatoes compared to things such as the huge number of bridges in this country which need to be inspected and strengthened, the growing population of prisoners and the decline in people’s abilities to pay their bills. None of the presidential candidates has really done much to address any of these 🙁

  3. Joffan

    “For the bleeding hearts who can’t wait to put another nuclear reactor on line, I can only wish you’d put more energy into finding a solution for waste management, and less into contributing to the problem.”

    I don’t think you mean “bleeding hearts”, but anyway let’s be clear what is happening here: Yucca Mountain repository is being denied funding that exists, that was set aside as part of the cost of the electricity and has now apparently been locked away by the federal government. This august institution also incidentally declared itself the only body allowed to dispose of spent fuel.

    However, since we obviously need to do something with nuclear waste, why don’t you use your concern about the issue and pick one of the possibilities? Have you even looked at the solutions, or do you prefer just to keep it a problem? For exaample, do you have an opinion on WIPP?

  4. Max

    I agree with you both. Jim, I know nothing of physics or nuclear energy, and doubt very much knowledge of same would lessen my concerns about growing stockpiles of high-level nuclear waste. It seems we’ve almost adopted a pollyannish attitude toward this subject, that everything is in good hands, and we’ll be taken care of. I don’t believe it for a moment.

    So, why don’t we all sit down now and write a letter, make a phone call, whatever, to get some action. I just hope you’re registered to vote, that counts.

    And thanks for the comments.

  5. Noelle dEstries

    I agree with Jim — the wall in Mexico can wait. Perhaps we should think of ways to rid science of the politicians and maybe we’ll get somewhere…

  6. Jim47

    For every engineering solution, there are five hundred politicians who screw it up. Do not blame this on “nuclear power”; the blame rests solidly and entirely upon the shoulders of the know-nothings in Washington D.C. and elsewhere who have absolutely no knowledge of physics, and do not care to educate themselves.

    BTW: I cannot change your mind; you must do that for yourself. If you don’t know much about physics or engineering, then you can’t begin to understand much about nuclear energy.

    As for the particular problem cited, write to your Congresspeople and demand that they restore funding to Yucca Mountain; surely this is a more important use of our tax money than building a wall along the Mexican border would be.

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