Intelligent Energy

Nuclear waste? Not in Yucca's backyard

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 A longstanding nuclear supporter, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the Yucca plan was outdated.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

Related:
Reuters
Market Watch

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure