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 A longstanding nuclear supporter, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the Yucca plan was outdated.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.