Milestone Move by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
It’s taken two decades and billions of dollars, but the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository project has finally reached a new plateau. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, (NRC) has accepted an application for licensing, and will begin a lengthy process of safety studies, hearings and public meetings.
The application was filed June 3rd by the Department of Energy (DOE), and was accepted as “sufficiently complete” for the agency to move forward with the process which could take up to four years.
If the application makes it through the anticipated maelstrom of protests, a license to begin construction of the facility would be granted. Once completed, another license would have to be granted to begin receiving an estimated 77,000 tons of used nuclear fuel and highly radioactive material. Considering opposition to that phase of the project, it may take years before the first canisters of waste would be stored at the facility.
Therein lies another issue, transportation of the specially built containers from facilities in 39 states, mostly, if not all by railroad. Fears that a canister may fail and spill highly radioactive material in the event of a catastrophic derailment are coupled with concerns about terrorist attacks on a train hauling the material.
A Bumpy, Very Expensive Road Ahead
Nevada lawmakers at all levels have fought the project from the beginning, in what has become a contentious, classic “not in my back yard” battle. The NRC decision to begin processing of the application only promises more of the same.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama has made it clear he opposes the plan and will stop it if elected President. Republican John McCain supports the project, if it meets what he termed “environmental requirements.”
Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), has made it clear he’ll do everything possible to end the project for good.
Members of Congress were advised of the decision to proceed with the licensing process, and they hold the future of the project in their hands. Senator Reid led an attack that resulted in funding for the project being slashed during this session of Congress, resulting in layoffs and curtailment of work at the site.
If Not Yucca Mountain, Then What or Where?
It may be another decade before Yucca Mountain is approved, and then, it may get trashed in the new Congress, or by a presidential veto.
If it doesn’t become a reality, there’ll be one huge hole in a mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and no place to store the tons of radioactive material piling up at facilities around the country. One Las Vegas wag said it might make a great place to store wines.
The Nuclear industry is working on alternatives to the problem, that would store the material at selected sites in the country until a permanent facility is agreed upon, if ever.
Should the anticipated construction of new nuclear facilities, 140 by John McCain’s count, begin, the amount of radioactive material needing a final resting place will rise exponentially.