Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yucca Mountain Reborn?

The Department of Energy didn’t have the proper authority to shut down work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, according to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, part of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This report at World Nuclear News outlines the details of the board’s decision which effectively says DOE can’t trump Congressional mandates that Yucca Mountain be the nation’s site for storage of spent fuel and other high-level nuclear waste:
“Unless Congress directs otherwise, the DOE may not single-handedly derail the legislated decisionmaking process by withdrawing the application. The DoE's motion [to stop work at Yucca] must therefore be denied.”
The next step is for the ruling to go before NRC commissioners, who will then decide on how to proceed, WNN says.

Enter, of course, the politicians. Nevada’s congressional delegation is sure to start immediately on legislation challenging the ASLB’s ruling, and likely subsequent support from the NRC. Anti-nuclear forces are also likely to rally allies in Congress, as many see a failure of Yucca as a rejection of additional nuclear power plants. Whether or not such legislation can be approved is anyone’s guess, as there are plenty of players, both on the Republican and Democratic sides of the spectrum, who want spent fuel and other wastes currently stored all over the country moved to a single repository. You can certainly count on South Carolina, Idaho, Washington, and other states seeing the ASLB’s reaction as good news, giving them the fuel they need to start up the Yucca Mountain battle again.

This might, perchance, also be a good time to get spent fuel reprocessing back onto the political radar. Reprocessing spent fuel – a process that allows for the recovery of more than 95 percent of the fuel for reuse – certainly makes more economic sense than simply squirreling the fuel away. Given, however, that fuel reprocessing is tied up with nonproliferation, that’s also a delicate political football. Maybe best to see if Yucca Mountain can be revived, but with the idea that the spent fuel be put in a place where it can be easily extracted, in case curse on fuel reprocessing is removed.

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