Posting in Energy
The Department of Energy has scrapped Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste disposal site. With the country's renewed push for nuclear power, the question remains: What are we going to do with the waste?
After decades of research and debate, Nevada's Yucca Mountain will not become the country's long-term nuclear waste storage facility.
By long-term, I mean for the next million years or so.
Due to the high radioactivity of some of the waste, the Supreme Court has ruled that any nuclear repository must be certified geologically stable for one million years.
Last week, the Department of Energy formally asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw its June 2008 application for placing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain. A longstanding nuclear supporter, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the Yucca plan was outdated. He told the Wall Street Journal:
"It's fair to say that the whole history of Yucca Mountain was more political than scientific. But also very truthfully I can say that given what we know today, the repository looks less and less good. So now we're in a situation where it can't go forward."
Obama has called for a next generation of clean, safe nuclear power plants to address climate change and create jobs. Future plants may be able to produce less waste than their predecessors, but we will still need to do something with the toxic stuff as it accumulates.
Currently about 63,000 metric tons of commercial waste and 7,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste from the military are looking for a home. About 121 temporary facilities in 39 states contain the materials now.
Chu will be appointing members to a Blue Ribbon Commission that will investigate long-term solutions to the disposal issue. Such potential alternatives may include recycling the waste or geologically entombing it at more stable locations.
The commission's first meeting is in Washington, DC on March 25-26. They will have 18 months to draft a report of their results.
In the meantime, the problem isn't going anywhere.
Mar 8, 2010
I have the solution to our nuclear waste storage problem: Just turn off all nuclear power plant (because, let's say, we have a serious public safety issue with nuclear waste sitting out in the open areas) and let the public suffer power outages and high rates. Then they will demand that this problem be solved fast!!
To answer jkirk3279 above: There are two main categories of waste coming from nuclear plants - high-level waste in the form of spent fuel and low-level waste in the form of radioactive material such as decomination material or disposable contaminated products, resins, filters, metals that can't be decontaminated, etc. The low-level waste which is currently being shipped off to only a couple of certified waste disposal sites in the country. This and the required methods for handling waste (very tightly controlled and regulated) make it very expensive. To reduce this cost of operating a nuclear plant, companies have undertaken massive efforts to reduce, separate, concentrate and process as much of the low-level waste as possible without making the process cost-prohibitive. You mention encapsulation techniques which are already in place at nuclear facilities. There are large trash compactors in use that reduce the bulk size; there are strict controls on what goes into a contaminated area so as not to increase waste generation. Believe me when I say, the generation of radioactie waste is a huge deal and millions of dollars are spent at nuclear facilities to minimize it in every way possible. On to high-level waste or spent fuel - true that spent fuel could be re-processed and it has been done before over 2 decades ago, but it is way too expensive and dangerous to maintain fuel re-processing plants so they shut down. But with new technology and processes, it's worth re-visiting, IF all the political and bureaucratic hurdles can be overcome. As for the efficiency, consider this: a nuclear reactor that produces 1000 MWatts thermal energy, will produce roughly 300-350 MWatts electric with modern steam generator and turbine technology or roughly 33% efficiency. This is typical of pressurized water reactors. Regarding lifespan of nuclear plants. They were initially given finite operating licenses due to a lack of evidence regarding the nuclear vessel that might in theory become imbrittled due to the neutron flux. Nowadays, a preponderence of evidence indicates that these vessels can last 80-100 years, but the NRC still will only license for 50 years for safety reasons. License extensions have been granted where sufficient evidence has shown no effects (after years of testing) to the nuclear vessel.
There is an effective means of dealing with nuclear waste. First, use the French techniques to filter it down, reducing the volume. Most of it can be re-used, after all. Then mix the concentrated waste with cement, graphite, etc, to act as buffer materials. Cast it in blocks, and stack it on the surface out in the desert. The radioactivity will be mostly contained, there will be no groundwater contamination, and if our descendants find a way to completely neutralize or even USE the stuff, it will be better to have it there than in the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Build a Army Base right next to it, to patrol the dump and keep out terrorist wannabees. That being said, I oppose Nuclear Power. It's just stupid. People like Nuclear Power because they want something for nothing, and they think nuclear power is free money. It's not. By the time you dig up the ore, refine it, concentrate it, transport it, and then finally start to use it, you've used almost all the energy you will get back. The best estimate I've heard is that you get 4% net energy out. Concentrating Solar plants, on the other hand, are cheaper to build, insure, and run. They can produce electricity 24/7 with natural gas as a backup, and here's the kicker: CSP is not only perfectly clean, the plants don't wear out after 30 years. So thirty years from now, a new nuclear plant is facing dismantling, but a Concentrating Solar plant is still running just as well as the first day.
Is the only objection to dropping waste into the sun, the possibility of a nasty spill on the way out of earth's gravity? Well yes the cost. Okay so if part of the cost of producing electricity with nuclear power is the cost of keeping it green, is it still such cheap energy? No, but postponing the bill for later generations does fit with an American pattern. True, we MAY develop better ways to produce nuclear power with cleaner plants. To quote a famous American icon of virtue and self-sacrifice ?Fiddle-dee-dee! I won?t worry about that today. I?ll worry about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!? -Scarlett O?hara
The story should start, "After decades of research and debate, politicians have killed a practical project." Instead of calling it a repository, they should have called it remediation, as the waste in question is less radioactive than Yucca.
Makes you wonder if Obama really wants to build new nuclear power plants, or if that is just more window dressing to win elections. BTW, after all the junk science behind "Global Warming" has been revealed, did you REALLY expect any reeal science to be behind a decision like this - or "Healthcare," or any other political/government decision?
Even if the geologic zone is not guaranteed to be stable for one million years (hard to imagine mankind still being around that long), the 1/4 mile-deep chambers are surrounded by salt deposits and other encapsulating minerals that would contain the fuel caskets during any kind of geologic event, such as an earthquake. Not to mention the caskets themselves being able to withstand counter-forces and material breakdown for hundreds of thousands of years. This is simply a good way to shut down nuclear plants that can not store anymore spent fuel at their sites, whether through dry-cask storage or simply left in the spent fuel pools. This is ironic in the sense that these are transitional measures until the Yucca Mtn repository is operational, because personally, I would want the spent fuel to be stored indefinitely there than at nuclear facilities that will be dismantled after 50+ years operation. Hmmm, long-term storage at a highly-studied, well-designed facility meant for that kind of thing and far from population centers OR long-term storage in interim facilities that are near population centers...seems the choice is obvious.
>the Supreme Court has ruled that any >nuclear repository must be certified >geologically stable for one million >years. What most people don't realize is that if you take a ton of fission products and bury them, in 600 years - not a million years - the level of radioactivity will be no greater than uranium itself. As for non-fission product (i.e. transuranic) "waste": Transuranics are NOT waste! If you recycle them into a nuclear reactor, they eventually end up as fission products. This is especially true of fast neutron (breeder) reactors. Senator Reid: If you want to oppose nuclear power, go right ahead. We are all entitled to our prejudices and opinions. But I'll remember your opposition to nuclear power, if you ever oppose solar energy projects.
All of those fools don't seem to know squat about geology or physics. The Yucca mountain waste repository is almost within spitting distance of a slew of craters left over from the nuclear weapons tests of the 1950's, and the area is part of the Great Basin, which means ground water is already potentially contaminated and has little or no mobility out of the region (water doesn't naturally flow uphill). Its also a desert, & gets relatively little precipitation. The waste will remain highly radioactive for a few hundred years, and the plutonium should be reclaimed for new fuel rods. This decision is just the ultimate NIMBY decision of brain-dead people. A real leader would use Yucca Mtn "for the good of the nation"
"the repository looks less and less good" Ah. That explanation ought to hold up in a court of law! This decision has everything to do with getting Reid reelected and very little to do with science. Here's Chu's testimony: Sen. Patty Murray: Was there scientific evidence that was used in determining [that Yucca Mountain is no longer a viable option]? Steven Chu: ... the President has made it very clear that it is not an option. In other words, "no."
Everyone who complains about Yucca Mtn should look up the site on Google Maps. Then read my comment below. No place on earth is "stable for a million years or more" except maybe the abyssal plain off the US East coast, as the recent D.C. earthquake has shown. Just think of the Environmental Impact statement that would be required of dumping the waste out there - folks would go apoplectic about the possibility of irradiating a few deep-sea worms. Solving this problem will require the kind of political courage not seen in Western Societies since Gen. Charles DeGaul set up France's nuclear program, and is sadly lacking in the USA.