Soon we will have another point at which we can decide how and where to store our nuclear waste. Senator Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, is to retire in 2016. He has, with President Barack Obama’s support, politically blocked the U.S. from moving forward on the Yucca Mountain storage of this nation’s nuclear waste. With his retirement and the time clock running out on Mr. Obama’s presidency, we have another chance to reinstitute Yucca Mountain if we want to.
In early 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined Yucca Mountain would be safe if we chose to operate it as a nuclear waste storage facility. Finally, the Commission completed its last two volumes of its five-volume safety evaluation.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was instituted by the federal government to store weapons related nuclear waste (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/nuclear-weapons/ published on this website on June 29, 2014). This repository, outside Carlsbad New Mexico, was designed for another level and is presently frozen at one storage level. We could store twice as much nuclear waste at this facility if we opened up another storage level.
We could decide that a distributed storage option should aggregate present storage sites into a regional use of individual boreholes. The notion of using boreholes punched into layers of granite has been around a long time but has been discarded many times as less feasible than a single repository.
Boreholes up to 5,000 meters deep could hold multiple types of waste with the most critical waste stored the deepest, between 3,000 and 5,000 meters with successive layers of clay, rocks and cement to seal the boreholes. It would take 700 to 950 such boreholes to house the nation’s entire amount of high-level waste.
Each borehole would cost about $40 million dollars. This is inexpensive however, recognizing we have already spent over $15 billion dollars assessing the suitability of Yucca Mountain. So far, estimates range has high as $90 billion in the total amount spent on Yucca Mountain so far.
The final option is to leave the nuclear waste materials in water pools near the nuclear reactors that have generated the waste material. Of course this nation’s use of nuclear reactors remains way down. In fact, the number of nuclear power plants that are active in the U.S. fell below 100 with the closure in late 2014 of the Vermont Yankee plant that shuttered its operations. This gives us less that 100 active storage sites or water pool installations to worry about.
The risks of these options are well documented, for instance, in terms of the vulnerability to terrorists, the risks incurred in moving large quantities of radioactive materials to a single national or several regional storage sites, or the contamination of ground water no matter which methodology is used.
While many pundits will argue the various pros and cons of these options, the solution will still boil down to a decision that must be made.
If you assume that all options have their shortcomings and that each shortcoming can be worked around using additional safety measures, we will still need someone’s final word. We each need to decide which is the best option, whether the siting of storage is open to constituent or voter decisions or whether the federal government should just make an arbitrary decision.
Is the decision a popular one to be made by each electorate, is it to be left to politicians who will use their process to decide what should be done or should it be left to the scientists the government chooses to listen to? We believe this entire issue will boil down to this one element, which is who gets to decide?
We believe nuclear power must be increased if the U.S. is to fulfill the commitments President Obama made to the rest of the world. The March 25, 2015 issue of Scientific America had an article entitled Nuclear Letdown that states, “Without nuclear power, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants will become increasingly more costly to implement. And if states cannot meet the plan’s requirements, the U.S.’s promise to China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025 may fall through.”
Of course more nuclear plants will create more waste that we must deal with. This storage decision must be made and each of us must formulate a position that we should communicate to others.
Our position is the decision should not be made on the basis of some vote taken in a territory or a political decision by politicians. We believe the federal government should make a decision based upon the best judgment of their scientists. The decision should be made on the basis of which is the safest alternative for the nation and its citizens. A decision should be made and soon.
Use the following links to access more information or the original documents used in our research.