When governments confuse Robertson and Phillips screwdrivers nuclear energy goes to court.
This last week the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), won a significant lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals. The court ruled that nuclear utilities may stop paying $750 million a year into the nuclear waste recovery fund until the Department of Energy makes a decision on disposal of radioactive waste.
But the victory is bittersweet as it evidences a new level of uncertainty to the US nuclear industry for waste disposal. On January 26, 2012 the Blue Ribbon Commission of the Secretary of Energy emphasized urgency to find a consolidated geological repository for the disposal of nuclear waste. To the conspiracy theorists among us, it suggests that the Obama administration has found a new energy source.
The convoluted way that led to the selection, construction, and cancellation of the Nevada Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is analogous to the complex political process involved in the assembly of the kind of furniture that comes tightly packaged in flat cardboard boxes.
On a Saturday morning you need to assemble a new bed frame from IKEA. The instruction book, that flimsy little piece of paper in 15 languages, tells you that you need a Robertson screwdriver. You instruct your teenage son to fetch the square-tipped screwdriver from the toolbox. But your brother-in-law Billy-Bob who happens to be a loudmouth mechanic tells your son that IKEA engineers should have used a Phillips screwdriver instead. Your son, confused and not caring one bit, comes back with a flat screwdriver. In the meantime you open the boxes and layout all five hundred pieces on the carpeted floor. And finally your mother-in-law shows up and convinces your wife that she doesn’t need new furniture because aunt Betty is about to die and you might inherit hers.
Nuclear power makes up sixteen percent of the power mix of Las Vegas, yet Nevada has been a vociferous opponent to the project since the so-called “Screw Nevada Bill” which in 1987 halted engineering research on alternate sites to the Yucca Mountain. Two-thirds of Nevadans felt it was unfair for their state to have to store nuclear waste when there are no nuclear power plants in Nevada.
By 2008, Yucca Mountain was one of the most studied pieces of geology in the world with the United States having invested US$9 billion on the project.
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Studies showed that the radiation emission profile from the Yukka Mountain was safe from 10,000 years to 1,000,000 years into the future. On August 9, 2005, the United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed a limit of 350 millirem per year. In October 2007, the DOE issued a draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in which it shows that for the first 10,000 years mean public dose would be 0.24 mrem/year and that thereafter to 1,000,000 years the median public dose would be 0.98 mrem/year, both of which are considerably below the proposed EPA limit. For comparison, a hip x-ray results in a dose around 83 mrem and CT head or chest scans result in around 1,110 mrem.
Yet, during his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to abandon the Yucca Mountain project. Federal funding ceased in 2010.
Further yet, President Obama’s 2011 blueprint for a Secure Energy Future calls for 80 percent of electricity to be generated from low-carbon fuels by 2035. The administration’s clean energy standard included nuclear energy, which does not emit greenhouse gases as it generates electricity. It also included wind energy, solar power, natural gas and coal with carbon capture and sequestration.
While all these events took place fracking became proven as a new source of energy. It exorcised the ghost of peak oil, created jobs and lessened the urgency for developing new energy sources and the management of their waste.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>