Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Well, it looks like the Obama administration is going to pull the plug on Yucca Mountain.

with 2 comments

Well, there will be no Yucca Mountain facility opening in the US any time soon. But is that a big deal? No. There never was any urgent need for Yucca Mountain. The used nuclear fuel at the civilian power reactors is quite safe where it is, and it isn’t hurting anybody. The current on-site storage can be maintained for many years to come, and it’s just not a problem that requires any pressing intractable attention.

It will be interesting to see what happens in relation to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act – obviously they will have to change the law.
I suppose that money will be put back into the hands of the nuclear utilities, or used by the government to implement recycling of fuel.
I’d be happy to see the money used by the government to implement recycling infrastructure, and/or used by the nuclear generation utilities to implement dry cask storage for all the on-site storage capacity for their fuel that they need and that they’re going to need, until reprocessing and/or central storage is implemented.

It’s worth remembering that we’re not abandoning Yucca Mountain, we’re not “wasting” billions of dollars – the Obama government is not going to backfill it with concrete and burn all the research data. We’re just putting Yucca Mountain on the back burner for a little while, that’s all. If, in 10 years, we decide that Yucca Mountain wasn’t such a bad idea after all, we can always go straight back to it where we left off.

I think that’s not actually all that bad, because it gives us time to step back, breathe, and realise that taking this used LWR fuel, which is 96% unchanged uranium, declaring it to be so-called “waste”, and throwing it in Yucca Mountain really is a little stupid.

Off the top of my head I can’t remember how deep the Yucca tunnels are, but perhaps the facility will be useful for particle physics experiments (neutrino physics, dark matter detection and the like) just like the WIPP site in New Mexico.

As much as I fully support sensible recycling of nuclear fuel, and I hate to see good useful material “wasted”, I think, yes, it’s worth ultimately having a geological repository, although it’s certainly not needed urgently.

Even with the efficient use of uranium and actinides, and the extraction of useful fission products, I think we’re going to be producing medium-lifetime radioactive fission products (such as Cs-137, Tc-99, Sr-90, or what-have-you) at a rate which will exceed their consumption for useful applications, and therefore, we will have surplus material that will probably be best going to deep geological storage. Add in the transuranic-contaminated waste from the Cold War and the weapons facilities, and industrial and scientific radioactive waste, and yes, it really doesn’t hurt to have a deep geological repository such as Yucca mountain.

Written by Luke Weston

February 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I think that’s good news. Spent fuel should be utilized by the Federal government for fuel, not thrown away.

    The Nuplex Solution

    Marcel F. Williams

    February 27, 2009 at 9:28 pm

  2. For DoD related TRU wastes, there’s already a depository. WIPP.

    No need for Yucca Mountain


    February 28, 2009 at 3:12 am

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