A Senate committee in Kentucky just passed a bill that could potentially allow for the new construction of nuclear power plants in the Bluegrass State. Essentially, the bill would repeal a 1984 law that placed a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction until the federal government can figure out how to dispose of the waste.
So has the federal government figured out how to dispose of this waste?
Not a chance.
One of the biggest problems with nuclear is that there is still no safe way to dispose of the waste. And no matter how hard they try, there’s simply no way to spin this one. Sure, there have been attempts. Just go to the World Nuclear Association’s website, where you can read the following…
Today, nuclear power plants have a superb safety record – both for plant workers and the public. In the transport of nuclear material, highly engineered containers – capable of withstanding enormous impact – are the industrial norm. More than 20,000 containers of spent fuel and high-level waste have been shipped safely over a total distance exceeding 30 million kilometres.
If you have to put something in a highly-engineered container, capable of withstanding enormous impact…then it ain’t safe!
Still, nuclear power plants have been sending massive amounts of juice to the grid for years. And as a result, we now have tons of nuclear waste – and no safe, centralized place to put it.
Of course, more than two decades ago, as mandated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the DOE became responsible for finding a suitable site to store about 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. That location ended up being Yucca Mountain, NV.
It is likely that you’ve heard about Yucca Mountain before. Especially after last year, when it turned out that the repository will cost $96.2 billion (in 2007 dollars). That’s $38.7 billion higher than the 2001 estimates of $57.5 billion. And guess who’s footing the bill for that? Turns out ratepayers will be responsible for about 80 percent – or just over $77 billion!
But wait…it gets better!
That $96.2 billion (right now) will be enough to develop a repository large enough to handle 77,000 metric tons. Here’s the problem – more than 56,000 tons are already stored at more than 77 reactor sites across the country. And this number increases by about 2,000 tons each year. So by 2036 (when Yucca would be filled to capacity), we’ll be looking at about 110,000 tons – or 33,000 tons above what Yucca can store. Translation – problem NOT solved!
Of course, some have suggested that Yucca could hold as much as 120,000 tons, if Washington allowed it. That would give us a 10,000 ton buffer – for five more years. Either way, I wouldn’t count on that happening. After all, Obama was very vocal about his opposition to Yucca Mountain, and many Democrats in the House and Senate are likely to continue to chip away at the project’s budget.
Still, something does need to be done with all that waste we have sitting in our backyards today. Will it be a centralized storage location? Could we possibly see reprocessing gain momentum as a result of the Yucca Mountain controversy? I have no idea. But one thing we can do, and one thing we must do, is stop continuously creating this problem to begin with.
Today, nuclear provides us with about 20 percent of our electricity. But between energy efficiency and conservation, and the large-scale integration of renewables, that 20 percent could easily be replaced – and without contributing to the safety and environmental issues that are undoubtedly associated with nuclear power.
Feel free to leave a comment, and tell me why I’m wrong.
In the meantime, the responsible capitalist will continue to support and invest in energy solutions that don’t require evacuation plans – like those that are required for cities and towns that surround nuclear power plants.