Disposal of spent fuel still a worry

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New reactors might be safer than those of the 1970s, but all nuclear facilities share the challenge of what to do with spent nuclear fuel.

Currently, the nation's 104 operating power reactors create about 2,000 tons of the material each year, adding to 70,000 tons stored mostly at those power plants.

Much of that material is stored in concrete-lined pools, where water keeps the fuel rods cool. More secure, above-ground cask storage systems can also be built.

Even before spent fuel at Japan's doomed Fukushima reactor complex was feared to be overheating, concerns over the safety of spent fuel at U.S. facilities were being reiterated.

Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the U.S. Department of Energy became the agency responsible for finding disposal solutions for spent nuclear fuel.

In 2002, Congress approved Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the site of a national nuclear waste repository. Under an Obama administration edict, however, the project was canceled and a Blue Ribbon Commission was appointed to seek alternatives.

Because the federal government's long-range plan for a national geologic repository for such waste has stalled, Plant Vogtle is following in the footsteps of many other nuclear plants by building above-ground cask storage sites that can accommodate larger volumes of nuclear waste for longer periods.

Cask storage is already in place at the Southern Nuclear's Hatch and Farley plants. Those sites are among 51 licensed cask facilities in 47 facilities in the U.S., according to the NRC.

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Rather 03/20/11 - 11:58 am
Several years ago I worked in

Several years ago I worked in Las Vegas on the design of Yucca Mountain. While there one of the Mechanical Engineer scientists calculated that if you turned all the nuclear material and so-called "waste" into energy, the United States could have free electricity for a thousand years. This accounted for the projected increase in population, etc. While I am sure this was an inflated number, I am still sure several hundred years is possible.

Yucca Mountain was designed not just as a "waste dump" where the material was stored safely for thousands of years, but so in the future it could, if desired, be safely extracted for future use. One major objective was to place all this waste on one location where it could be protected from terrorists. Now, all this waste is scattered all over the country and not nearly so secure.

With the terrible nuclear event occurring in Japan, I am sure a lot of Americans don't want to think of new nuclear power plants, but I predict any country that is independent of oil as a major source of electricity in 40 years from now will be a rich country. Those without electricity will be poor.

Even electric cars need to be plugged into your home electricity. Trucks burning diesel need to deliver groceries. You watch when energy supplies dry up and food prices go sky high, all of a sudden, again, we are likely going to be changing our feelings about nuclear power. Just wait and see.

Germany is doing a fantastic job of finding alternate energy sources without using nuclear or oil. Wind, Solar, and even Ocean Wave action are being used.

But, not building Yucca Mountain and safely storing the nuclear waste is criminal behavior by the Obama administration.

SteveMic 03/20/11 - 09:08 pm
Are any of us really

Are any of us really qualified to determine whether or not Yucca Mountain is a safe place to store spent fuel? I know I'm not. We've all "heard" this and "read" that about the site. But according to the scientists and nuclear engineers and geologists who studied the project, the location is suitable.

In view of that, the decision on whether or not to license Yucca Mountain should be up to the NRC, after they have studied the millions of documents included with the license application. Unfortunately, since Chairman Jaczko and Senator Harry Reid are buddies from way back, they have conspired to shut down the project (by cutting off funding) without it going through the proper process. This is not right, and it also may not be legal.

Next week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is set to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by Washington, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Idaho. These states (and many others) have been storing their own nuclear waste with the promise that a permanent waste storage site would be opened.

If the catastrophe in Japan has taught us anything, it's that onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel is a less than ideal method, to put it mildly.

Let the Yucca Mountain license application proceed, and let the experts (and not the politicians) make the decision. It's the least we are entitled to in return for a $10 billion investment.

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