Interim steps toward solving America’s spent-fuel dilemma.
John A. Bewick is Fortnightly’s contributing editor and formerly was secretary for environmental affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He holds advanced degrees in nuclear science and business management. His May 2011 article, “Spent Fuel Fedcorp,” examined proposals for a federal corporation to take responsibility for managing commercial nuclear waste.
Nuclear operators advocate a long-term solution, but they’re being rewarded by court-imposed fines for the government’s failure to take spent fuel.
Mississippi Gov. Bryant indicated he’s interested only in multi-purpose facilities that include reprocessing fuel as a major job creator.
Issues regarding the Yucca site arguably will remain unresolved, because they involve uncertainties about performance for 10,000 years and more.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) failure to site a permanent geological repository for nuclear wastes in the United States has cost taxpayers billions in sunk costs at Yucca Mountain, and is incurring annual fines in the hzundreds of millions, as well as tens of millions in utility investments in on-site dry cask storage.
When President Barack Obama in 2009 announced the cancellation of the Yucca Mountain project to store spent nuclear fuel, he also announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) with a 2-year mandate to study the issue of spent fuel and to make recommendations. Yucca Mountain had been designated by Congress as the site for such storage in 1987, and over $10 billion had already been spent on studies and engineering, under the direction of DOE.