According to a detailed report by Bloomberg.com titled Obama Rejects Nuclear Waste Site After 20-Year Fight (Update1) the current Administration has determined that Yucca Mountain will never open. I am not shedding any tears about that development; I have thought it was a huge waste of time, talent and money for many years.
However, it appears likely that both the DOE and the NRC will continue spending our dollars to employ people to pursue and review a license for the location even though the likelihood of it opening as a used fuel waste storage location is equivalent to the possibility of me winning a lottery. (Note – I have purchased perhaps two-four lottery tickets in my entire life; none of them were winners.)
As a bureaucrat myself, I know that many of the people working on this project within the agencies believe they are doing an important job. I also know that the total amount of money involved will fall down to what we casually call “decimal dust” on the scale of normal federal government expenditures. However, pursuing a long term waste storage license for a place that will never host used nuclear fuel will waste something far more precious than a few federal dollars – it will consume valuable and very limited “bandwidth” in the form of time from key technical leaders and decision makers at both DOE and the NRC.
The employees and leaders at these agencies have more pressing challenges. We need to shelve – carefully, with good librarian support – all of the work that has gone into Yucca and move on to license new power plants, find better strategies for used fuel reuse, and determine if there are any other valuable products within the material currently considered to be an expensive liability.
As a favorite childhood book called The Entrepreneurs taught me a long time ago, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That book was full of stories about people who had built large businesses up from ideas that no one else could see; the example used to illustrate trash to treasure was a meat packer who turned pork and ham scraps into an edible, packable meat package that played a big role in feeding the troops during WWII (15 million cans per week!).
Hormel Spam remains available and profitable. The company still turns material that might otherwise have been considered to be waste into something useful. In both good times and bad, Spam sales continue, the company reports that it sells 122 million cans every year, 70 years after the product was first introduced. The company even has a museum that receives 20,000 visitors per year; not bad for a business that is selling recycled meat scraps.