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Life After Yucca

Reviving hope for spent-fuel storage.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2010

knowledge over a long period of time, which allowed Carlsbad to accept the only permanent radiation waste-storage facility in the world. Although local boards were funded by DOE, they had control over what they learned and where they got input. This gave the information greater credibility.

Local familiarity with nuclear power also is very helpful. The island in Finland where a deep geological repository is being built also houses a nuclear-power complex. The small population on the island is comprised of people who already are comfortable with nuclear properties, and who welcome the job opportunities they provide. Similarly in Sweden, local public affirmation and support were key criteria in selecting the country’s two repository sites.

Local Control : Power sharing is extremely important in the planning process. New Mexico has the power to write permits, which gives the state ongoing authority and oversight in the operation of the WIPP.

Further, inviting communities or states to bid for a repository, as Sweden has done, presents petitioners with a reason to realistically consider the appropriateness of the location, and to compete for the jobs and potential infrastructure and community incentives that would derive from an on-site repository.

Industry Funding : A single new nuclear power plant costs $9 billion to $10 billion to build. By comparison, cleanup of a site like Hanford costs $12 billion, and the Yucca Mountain project initially was estimated to cost $57.5 billion in 2001. As efforts proceed toward building interim and permanent repositories, the industry and the federal government will gain a clearer understanding of the technical requirements and monetary costs of storing spent fuel from existing and new nuclear facilities. Incorporating such costs into the capital costs of facilities will help demonstrate that waste disposal is considered an integral part of the cradle-to-grave lifetime of a nuclear facility.

Resolving America’s spent-fuel dilemma will require dedicated leadership at all levels of the decision-making process—and also the willingness to consider innovative approaches and solutions (see “Plan D for Spent Nuclear Fuel”) . Potential nuclear-waste storage sites face extraordinarily complex challenges, in terms of technical analysis, engineering and finance, as well as public perception and acceptance. But experiences at nuclear waste sites already have demonstrated what practices and approaches are doomed to failure—and which ones have at least a chance of succeeding.

 

Endnotes:

1. See DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Office of Business Management, Summary of Program Financial & Budget Information as of Jan. 31, 2010, Program Spending History Table, monies expended 1983-2009.

2. In Sweden, SKB, Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co., is tasked with managing Swedish nuclear and radioactive waste in a safe way. ( See http://www.skb.se/default____24417.aspx)

3. See article, Finland’s Nuclear Waste Solution , Scandinavians are leading the world in the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, By Sandra Upson, December 2009, IEEE http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/nuclear/finlands-nuclear-waste-solution/0.

4. On Sept. 30, 2010 Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved a new energy plan that extends the deadline for shutting down nuclear plants by an average 12-year contract extension. 17 nuclear plants supply 25 percent of power in Germany.