The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository not being completely dead comes around again and again.
During his nearly 30-year tenure, Nevada Senator Harry Reid has led the opposition to the U.S. Department of Energy developing and using Yucca Mountain for such storage. But Senator Reid is retiring this year, and the question may return to the forefront.
That was the opinion of County Commissioners Varlin Higbee and Adam Katschke who attended the Department of Energy National Cleanup Workshop Sept. 14-15 in Washington, D.C.
Higbee said he was interested mostly in the comments made by Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, (R-TN) and Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID). “They both said, depending on the winds of politics, how this election goes, Yucca Mountain may again become one of the repository sites. However, it is being looked at now for just interim storage.”
Katschke said the workshop was basically about efforts being proposed, or in actual practice, to clean up the existing nuclear sites. “There are hundreds of millions of gallons of water and other debris inside underground storage tanks and what to do with it?”
He said the thinking of some at the workshop was that “when Harry Reid is out of office, Yucca Mountain will get the attention it deserves.”
He added, “It’s one thing to clean up the sites, but once that is done, the material still has to go somewhere, either to interim or long-term storage.”
According to the American Physical Society, approximately 54,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at operating nuclear power plants and several decommissioned power plants throughout the country. Spent fuel storage at these sites was never intended to be permanent.
At the DOE’s meeting, a 25-minute summary of more than 10,000 comments received from the public was given.
The majority of spent nuclear fuel in the United States is from commercial electricity generation at nuclear power plants. As of 2013, there were 70,000 metric tons of uranium from spent nuclear fuel, enough to fill the Yucca Mountain repository, and is still being stored above ground on site.
The licensing process for the project was stopped when the Obama administration trimmed federal funding for the site in 2010. However, a 2013 ruling of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia forced the regulatory commission to proceed with license hearings.
Not much has been said about Yucca Mountain in the past couple of years, but the conversation could reopen, as Higbee noted, depending on the winds of politics following the upcoming election.