In the op-ed “Nuclear waste must find safe, permanent home in Nevada” (Nov. 6), U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson expressed dismay that the Republican candidates jumped at the opportunity to agree with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on shutting down the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
Wilson noted that even though the Yucca Mountain site has been thoroughly evaluated and submitted for licensing with more than $10 billion out of the Nuclear Waste Fund already spent on the project, the Obama administration took Yucca Mountain “off the table” and formed a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to again study the issues.
After nearly 18 months, the BRC issued a draft report for comment. Key recommendations previously proposed by numerous government and private organizations were again endorsed by the BRC including:
• interim storage of spent nuclear fuel;
• selection of a second repository;
• formation of a quasi-government entity to manage nuclear waste and take control of the NWF.
Interim storage of spent nuclear fuel is the right choice, since it allows for additional research and development to address the cost of spent nuclear fuel recycling. But the draft report downplays the potential of its role in the overall nuclear fuel cycle, ignoring its potential to enhance resource use, radioactive waste management and nuclear material safeguards.
Wilson states it is imperative for the United States to have a permanent nuclear storage and disposal facility. In selecting the site for the second repository, consideration should be given to expanding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. WIPP is the United States operating geological repository for long-lived transuranic wastes from the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear research, development, and demonstration activities.
Recent studies, as reported by Dr. James Conca in a recent presentation in Aiken, have shown that WIPP has the capacity to handle high-level nuclear waste in a cost-effective manner, in comparison to other options and WIPP, has demonstrated effective performance in its operation to date.
The nuclear waste issue should be raised as a defining issue in the Republican primaries and in the subsequent general election in 2012, since it holds one of the keys to America’s nuclear future that is being spearheaded in Georgia and South Carolina.
North Augusta, S.C.
(The writer is a nuclear engineer and an adjunct professor with the University of South Carolina Department of Mechanical Engineering.)