Thursday, December 13, 2012

When Obama Killed Yucca Mountain, Did He Also Kill US Nuclear?

The US Obama administration killed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository much like a sadist kills his victims: carefully, and with relish. But was it their unstated intent to kill all of US nuclear power by preventing all viable means of nuclear waste disposal?
In the end, the Obama administration succeeded, by a combination of legal authority and bureaucratic will, in blocking Congress’s plan for the Yucca Mountain repository — certainly for the foreseeable future, and perhaps permanently. A future president could theoretically pursue the project again, but that would require restarting an immense regulatory machine that had been mothballed for years. Even under the best of circumstances, that is a long-shot scenario unlikely to comfort those looking to invest in existing or new nuclear generation capacity.

...The nation’s 104 operational commercial nuclear power reactors produce between 2,000 and 2,400 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel each year. Over time, they have accumulated some 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel. That is greater than the mass of the Titanic when fully loaded; by one estimate, all that spent fuel would “cover one football field to a depth of approximately 20 feet.” Even if no new nuclear plants were built after today, the amount of spent nuclear fuel in the United States would be expected to more than double to 140,000 metric tons by 2055.

...The promise of nuclear power is impeded by the lack of a permanent solution to the difficult problem of where to dispose of its radioactive byproducts, and moreover by the ongoing uncertainty over whether there will ever be a solution. _NewAtlantis
Nuclear power sits in a legal and regulatory limbo. This type of government created uncertainty can represent the death of an entire industry -- an industry vital to the future of the US as an industrial and economic power.

In the future, new technologies will be developed which will be capable of extracting almost 95% of the energy from nuclear fuel, rather than the 4% currently extracted in light water uranium reactors. But unless something remarkable happens to change the current sluggish, bloated, and hyper-ideological style of government regulatory structure in the US, those technologies will only be developed and implemented outside of the USA.

Regardless, when those much more efficient nuclear technologies are developed, most of what we consider as nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel, will suddenly acquire value as nuclear fuel.

It is unlikely that anyone in Mr. Obama's administration actually cares about such developments, as long as political contributors, bundlers, supporters, and special interests are not immediately affected by them. But given the monumental importance of such future forms of energy, someone will be thinking about them.

Yucca Mountain Post-Mortem

Time to Reprocess Spent Nuclear Fuel

Savannah River Site looks at the future of spent fuel

A better way to produce energy cheaper than coal

Another solution to the spent fuel glut

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts