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  1. As I’ve done some research on Yucca in the past, one thing that was never clear was the charted purpose of the “repository”. I read descriptions that said they would be blending used fuel into glass logs onsite and then storing those glass logs. I read another report or article that said fuel rods would be stored whole and intact for possible future use in fuel recycling. So which is it? A final graveyard for used fuel or a temporary collection spot for excess inventory? The DOE has done a terrible job of communicating to the public the function and purpose of Yucca.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s confused about how Yucca is supposed to work. If it’s supposed to be a repository and excess inventory collection spot, then why not build a facility to only house dry casks that can be easily monitored, repaired and moved about by humans as needed instead of digging a super cave in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure not even people in Nevada would want to work out there if they had better choices. If a robust warehouse design would be sufficient, why not build a few of them in different states to create some extra jobs? If they’re going to be inefficient at least create a few extra jobs in the name of inefficiency.

    1. Jason – Some of the material going into the mountain comes from Department of Energy reactors. Some of the material comes from US Navy reactors. Many of the details of this material are classified.

      The majority of the material is commercial spent nuclear fuel, which will be loaded into the mountain “as-is.” That is, the fuel assemblies will be loaded into a cask, which is placed in a tunnel in the mountain with a drip-shield over top of them. These casks are required by law to be retrievable.

  2. I’m sort of reminded of the FIFA presidential “election” where there was only one candidate on the ballot. I was listening to an interview about a month ago with a guy, I think he was a sports writer for ESPN, who decided to campaign for FIFA president because no one else would run.

    The problem? He had to get nominated – by only a SINGLE national football association which is a member of FIFA. He said that, when talking behind closed doors with a number of football clubs, they would have liked to see him win, but none of them dared nominate him for fear of reprisals from Blatter, the current President, in the case that this guy lost the race.

    Sounds similar to the situation with the NRC, except football, in the end, doesn’t really matter, while the future of our energy security in this nation matters a GREAT DEAL.

  3. I think that Nevada is missing a golden opportunity here. They should set up a used fuel recycling facility next to Yucca Mt. and process not just US nuclear fuel, but fuel from other countries as well. Their education and health care could probably be paid for entirely by fees charged for handling of the fuel. Think of all those empty and foreclosed homes in Las Vegas that could be occupied by chemists, nuclear engineers, rad techs, construction workers, site security personnel, etc. Almost all those positions would be immune to fluctuations in the economy.

  4. Jaczko need to go!!!! What the administration is doing to the Yucca Mountain Project is completely corrupt!!! Dirty Harry “The War is Lost” Reid planted Gregory Jaczko (his former Science Advisor and he also worked for anti-nuke Ed Markey) on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (after holding up ~100 Bush appointees until Bush was forced to cave) and then pushed for him to be the Chairman of the NRC under Obama SPECIFICALLY so he could derail the NRC Review of the YMP License Application from the inside.

    In addition, he got Steven Chu to flip-flop his position on the YMP (after signing with the other National Lab Leads that the YMR was the path to pursue) in order to gain appointment to the Secretary of Energy job (… So much for “Sound Science”…). Further, the sitting NRC Commissioners all had to agree not to challenge DOE’s pulling of the License Application during their confirmation hearings in order to be confirmed.

    All of these players and obstructionists are in violation of the LAW!!! Reid, Waxman, Jaczko, Chu, Berkley, Heller ALL need to be thrown out of their jobs… I’d even go further and have them arrested for violating FEDERAL LAW.

    The ongoing BRC effort is just one big stall tactic!!! Otherwise, the BRC members would have been permitted to include the Yucca Mountain Repository in their evaluation. I also do not buy into the allegation that the people of Nevada do not want the repository. I know Nye County wants it!!! My home is in Las Vegas, and except for the vocal minority that appeared at NRC-DOE public meetings on the YMR, the people I talked to while out and about were generally indifferent to the YMR and usually only knew the misinformation that the Reid media machine pumped out to the masses.

    People need to read the findings presented in the recent Space, Science, and Technology subcommittee report. It reveals the NRC’s safety determination in SER Volume 3, finding that the Yucca Mountain Project License Application meets the regulatory requirements for going forward with a Construction Permit.

    The committee’s findings reveal not just a pattern, but a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related processes in order to shut down Yucca Mountain.

  5. The current design of YM in terms of storage space is inadequate for the volume of used fuel out there. The capacity is limited by heat load, primarily from actinide decay. Without full actinide recycle, we’re looking at either expanding the planned space, or siting another repository. Anyone want to wager on either of those happening in our lifetimes?

    We have to do some kind of actinide recycle. Waste partitioning alone won’t do it. With actinide recycle, there is adequate volume. Combine recycle with partitioning, and you have lots and lots of room.

    1. Not utilizing the remaining energy in the “spent” fuel would certainly be a waste.

      Rod’s piece here is loaded with points, but the one that is the most disheartening for the energy future of America, and subsequently the world, is this:

      “Our current system has imposed inertia of the worst kind – something that was approved long ago is considered to be “safer” than a far better design”

      Our current system has stifled the heck out of investment in the nuclear arena, and I hate to even speculate how many enterprising entrepreneurs have been completely discouraged from giving any legitimate consideration to pursuing any opportunities in the nuclear space due to the cumbersomeness and uncertainty associated with current regulatory practices (which has led to so much lack of investment).

      Gen IV reactors will be needed well within my lifetime (assuming no early death). I just hope America doesn’t end up needing to import all of them.

      1. The political and regulatory environment has certainly stifled innovation, but also throw in the business models currently in vogue today. Innovation of necessity contains an element of risk, and businesses in the US today, on balance, tend to avoid taking risks, almost to the point of obsession. The focus on short-term gain and maximizing profits in the minimum amount of time does not lend itself to ventures that often take a decade or so to show a return (which, I know, is very often driven by the regulatory and political elements). The intervenors know this, and are skilled at exploiting the system to rig this kind of outcome. That absolutely has to change to make any kind of a “renaissance” happen.

      2. Very good point, Wayne.

        Far too few people want to look far out into the future. It is potentially very scary out there, especially without adequate energy resources.

    2. The regulations required DOE to submit a report considering the siting of a second repository. DOE’s recommendation was to expand the Yucca Mountain Repository to handle 120,000 tons in lieu of a second repository. This can be accommodated by increasing the site footprint and number of emplancement drifts under the Yucca Mountain crest.

      1. A second site or expanded YM, either has about the same chance (zero) of happening as the original YM (zero) as long as people like Jaczko, Reid, and to a lesser extent, Obama, are around. It’s strange, in some ways. Obama has said all the right words about being supportive of using nuclear, but some of the actions of his DoE and NRC have been quite counterproductive. Is it a case of being duplicitous, stupid, or all hat and no cattle?

      2. Wayne – For as many times as Rod has lectured me about watching what people do instead of listening to what they say, he sure missed the boat when it comes to Obama and nuclear power, didn’t he?

        Personally, I thought that the handwriting was on the wall when President Obama appointed Jaczko to be the chairman of the NRC and when Chu (not the Secretary of Energy, but “my Secretary of Energy,” according to Obama — note the control and possessiveness implied by that choice of words) reversed his opinion about Yucca Mountain.

        Hope and Change

  6. Hi Rod,

    I’ve been following your blog for a few months now, and from what I understand, your stance against Yucca Mountain stems from the idea that it is intended to be a true repository – a final resting place for used fuel. I recently attended a presentation given by our local nuclear operator, and the presenter revealed some interesting perspectives when answering questions on YM.

    (I apologize in advance for being vague, I should have taken better notes)

    The presenter mentioned that back when the legislation was being drafted to establish Yucca Mountain as a repository and it became evident that it would pass, one legislator (sorry, I wish I had written down the name!) who was against the idea for the same reasons you are made sure to include language about monitoring the waste for 100 (200?) years, essentially ensuring it would be retrievable for that length of time (if you’re monitoring it for problems, you have to be able to fix those problems if detected, right?), and with the idea that better solutions will be available before the monitoring period was up.

    Someone else in the audience asked his opinion on reprocessing, and the presenter explained (from what I understood) that currently, only a small volume of the reprocessed material actually goes back into reactors, and that basically in France, the bulk of the reprocessed material is being squirreled away for use in future commercial technologies that aren’t fully developed yet. So to sum up, France is reprocessing and storing it for the future, and we’re storing it for the future as-is, and will likely start reprocessing the material once there the future commercial technologies are viable and there is a more immediate need for it. I have not seen this perspective presented anywhere else, and I am curious about your opinion on it! Thanks in advance.

    1. So is there a difference between a Depository and a Repository? Seems to me that if you’re going to call it a Repository, you have the intent of retrieving whatever it is you put in. Nonetheless, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to build this huge expensive hole in the ground when the first 10-20 years something on the order of 60-80% of the radioactivity from used rods has dissipated? So why are we in such a rush to store away something that gets easier to handle within a fraction of a lifetime?

      Seems to me by attempting to create this monument, a unintended (or maybe it was intentional) psychological narrative was created told everyone this stuff is so heinous and shameful, we must go to such great lengths to store it away forever. This doesn’t “solve” the nuclear “waste” issue, it exacerbates it by creating the issue. When dry casks are engineered to last 100-200 years and don’t take much space, why would we want to do this?

      1. Good point. I was just thinking that if Harry Reid doesn’t want it in his state, maybe he should change his tactics for blocking it and go on a Palin-style bus tour toting around a dry cask with him to show it’s safe and they don’t need a repository (depository, suppository, whatever) to begin with.

    2. Annie – That’s pretty accurate.

      There is one additional point that is often overlooked, however. The Yucca Mountain plan can be considered to be the more responsible option, if you’re a pessimist. In the highly unlikely event that all of society breaks down — from, say, World War III, a massive epidemic, or whatever doomsday scenario you prefer to imagine — during the century-long “monitoring” phase, you can just seal up the mountain, and you’re done. That’s certainly preferable to having all of this material scattered about in dozens of locations, sitting in temporary storage containers.

  7. Fuel Rods once called such should remain fuel rods. The course of current discussion would not be going on had it not been Fuel Rods were called waste. This inplies that fuel rods were to be wasted from the outset. …… Or the stupidity of political “Expert” policy was to be paid for by tax and rate payers as a planned course of action.
    Nuclear policy by Chairman Jaczko is, in my view, an example of the petro based fuel providers influence in the Congress. You know the one with the with the “IDEA RIGHT UNDER THEIR FEET WHERE THEY WANT US”.

  8. Imagine if the head of the FAA decided to jump into the middle of the approval process for the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A380 and declare them unworthy for passenger flight after the mandatory testing programs were completed.

    The political backlash would be immense.

    Boeing and Airbus would be releasing press statements, political operatives would be asking for the immediate resignation of the head of the FAA. Lobbyists would be living on Capital Hill and in the White House. Press releases would be issued every day about how many jobs would be lost and in what congressional district. The pressure for the FAA chief to either resign or reverse the decision would be incredible.

    That is basically what Jaczko did when he issued his politically oriented press releases on the AP 1000 and unilaterally pulled the plug on Yucca Mt.
    The only reason the Jaczko is still in his job is that nuclear power does not garner the same level of financial and political support for the many reasons we all discuss here in Rod’s blog. However if Jaczko’s declarations were seen to put the power generation industry in immediate jeopardy, he would no longer have a job.

    The issue is that his decisions have put the power generation industry in jeopardy. His decisions have put billions of dollars of consumer personal finances and investment income as well as thousands of jobs at risk. But because many people have been led to believe we can power our industrial society through continued dependence on fossil fuels and on sources that are tied directly to the sun and vagaries of weather, there is no backlash. There is only silence, which allows Jaczko to room to run amuck.

    I have never been a big fan of Yucca since the very concept was driven in part by the politics of anti-nuclear power and non-proliferation groups, not technical solutions to a technical issue. There is no reason we can’t temporarily store the fuel until systems are in place for recycling and reprocessing the material. I am also not a fan of the endless series of hearings Congress loves to hold. However, if this line of questioning can increase the pressure on Jaczko then I am all for it.

    I maintain that Jaczko is using the UCS playbook in doing Reid’s bidding as political payback to both camps. Once Jaczko’s term is finished, I would not be surprised to see him at the UCS or some other anti-nuclear organization similar to what Peter Bradford has done after his time at the NRC.

  9. I worked on the Yucca Mountain project in the late 90s. It is the perfect site for a geological repository. First the location is an ugly wasteland. While some parts of the desert are beautiful , this is not one of them. Second is is next to the National Test Site where underground nuclear weapons testing was performed. The geological is such that nothing put in there will get out into well water for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Geological time puts that sometime after the next interglacial warming period like we are in now. Glaciers will not Yucca Mountain.

  10. Although Yucca Mountain is more geologically complex than other potential formations that have been considered for use as a centralized nuclear waste repository (bedded salt, basalt, etc., many careful studies and a lot of risk analysis show that the facility could confine and isolate high level waste safely for 10,000 years or more. The problems of the Yucca Mt. Project are not technical; they’re political. There are many other types of high-level waste apart from spent fuel that need to be isolated from the biosphere. Many years of hard work and study went into the highly detailed YM licensing application that was submitted to NRC; those working on the application considered it bullet-proof. Even the tiniest bits of data had to be qualified.

    For Jaczko to engineer a way to prevent the licensing application from going forward suggests that he feared that expert analysis by the NRC staff familiar with Yucca Mt. would ultimately result in ratification of the application. And that would be politically unacceptable to powerful people in D.C. and in Nevada.

    Are there better geological sites for long-term repositories? Yes–the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the only long-term, deep-geologic repository in the nation and has been operating successfully since 1999 with the blessing of the local communities in SE NM.

  11. Just a couple of observations from one who sat on the 1979 IRG Review of the Federal Government’s Nuclear Waste Management Program.
    1. DOE had Yucca Mountain in its back pocket as early as 1978, They weren’t interested in pursuing retrievable interim surface storage at Yucca Flats which was the USGS recommendation at the time. (Yucca Flats is where the underground nuclear testing had been done and resides at Nellis Air Force Base) not that far away from Yucca Mountain.
    They were aggressively pursing the WIPP site with Yucca Mountain as a fall back for high level wastes. As for Yucca Flats, there is virtually no water at Yucca Flats. There are no volcanic and seismic hazards either. The whole history of the pursuit of Yucca Mountain is typical of the old mentality that has run the Department’s waste programs historically.
    2. DOE could have requested withdrawing its application on scientific and technical grounds, but they specifically didn’t (If they had, this wouldn’t be an issue today) (Problem yes, issue no).
    In particular, the ultimate shielding for the waste form has not been decided – that was left open in their submission to NRC. Sort of a to be determined. That alone should have been sufficient to slow down the program until its been determined.
    3. NRC could still determine to reject the application on technical grounds. Instead we have this political brohaha and mockery of the entire political process going on. Mudslinging by Congressional Republicans, character assassination of the current NRC Chairman etc ad nauseam. Not a way to run a railroad IMHO.