Eric McErlain has published a post that contains excerpts from a recent speech by Skip Bowman, the NEI President. The speech outlined the case for continuing to move forward with Yucca Mountain as the nation’s answer to the long term storage of used nuclear fuel.
Though we agree about many things, the Nuclear Energy Institute and I disagree rather strongly on this particular topic. I added a comment to the NEI blog outlining once again why I think that moving used fuel to a remote desert location is a waste of money.
Here is a copy of the comment that I left:
I have no problem at all believing that used nuclear fuel can be safely transported, stored, monitored and even retrieved from Yucca Mountain. I also believe there are probably dozens of other sites that could perform the same task if we care to spend a few decades and several billion dollars in scientific research designed to characterize the site for the next 10,000 years.
My problem is that NONE of that is necessary. That makes it a HUGE waste of money for the vast majority of the people that have to pay the bill.
Unfortunately for the people that are paying, the people that should most clearly understand and articulate the nature of the wasted money and effort are closely affiliated with the very people that will be on the receiving end of the contracts.
Used nuclear fuel is very compact and is already in a very stable form. That is especially true once the used fuel has spent a few years in a cooling pool.
Once you put the used fuel into a licensed storage container it can be safely stored above ground on what amounts to a slightly over engineered parking lot. Occasional inspection and security patrols are sufficient to ensure that the material is not disturbed and that the containers are doing their job.
If the storage area at a particular location gets full, the easiest thing to do is to expand the lot, but if that is not feasible another choice would be to build a few conveniently located facilities that could take the material from several nearby reactor complexes.
This above ground storage will keep the resource visible and easily available so that the motivation to find something profitable to do with the material remains strong. Even if Yucca is a retrievable site, it is remote enough so that it will be extremely expensive to move the material once again to a recycling facility. Constructing a recycling complex at that site is a non starter – it does not have one of the key resources needed to sustain a worker population or a factory operation – WATER.
One of the primary examples of the incredible cost that is yet to be spent for moving valuable used nuclear fuel to Yucca is the special purpose railroad that will be needed for the final part of the journey that does not already have a rail infrastructure.
If I remember the numbers correctly, there is about a 50-60 mile as the crow flies gap between the current rail head. In order to properly route the line around all natural and political barriers, the currently proposed route winds more than 300 miles through difficult desert terrain and is projected to cost more than $800 million dollars. (I think that figure is well below what the final cost will be.)
Enough of my rant. NEI – are you willing to discuss a better, far lower cost plan instead of sticking with a plan based on bad assumptions made more than 30 years ago?
One thing that I did not mention is that I believe that it will be economical to use some of the used nuclear fuel much earlier than some other people do.
My analysis of the uranium market and the demands that are going to be imposed by the creation of the necessary inventory for all of the new reactors that are being proposed will cause people to soon realize just how valuable 40,000 tons of mostly refined UO2 really are.
There is plenty of uranium in the world – I just think it is going to be cost effective to use material that is already out of the ground as one of several sources as we begin to build at a pace similar to that set in the early 1970s.