Amodei’s Magical Thinking Extends to Yucca Mountain

The lyrics to Jude’s song seem appropriate for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository:

It only hurts me when I’m awake, it seems to die with dreaming, and there’s only so much that I can fake when my whole life’s careening down. I will not die.

The problems already associated with the dump (1) questionable location, (2) transportation safety and security issues, (3) operational and administrative issues, and (4) financial issues, haven’t been addressed to the satisfaction of most Nevadans.  However, that hasn’t stopped the nuclear industry and its Republican allies in Congress.

“Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) on Thursday signaled that the House Energy & Commerce Committee would continue to press the issue of reopening the Yucca Mountain Waste Repository in Nevada as a storage site for nuclear waste, fresh from his tour of the facility this week.” [The Hill 4/28/11]

The Republicans, newly minted Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) included,  seem to have glommed onto a “jobs” plan for a waste dump + reprocessing plant.  [LVSun]

There’s a glitch in this argument, “re-processing” doesn’t solve the nuclear waste problem:

The idea behind reprocessing is that spent fuel can be enriched and used again in the nuclear fuel cycle.  Nuclear advocates like to compare this to “recycling” and that reprocessing will decrease the levels of spent fuel waste.  These claims are completely false.

Not only will reprocessing not solve the waste problem, it will actually make it worse.  Reprocessing spent fuel involves treating the waste with nitric acid and other strong chemicals which creates huge volumes of liquid radioactive waste.  The Department of Energy estimates that reprocessing spent fuel will result in a 6-fold increase in total waste volume compared to the direct disposal of spent fuel. [CWOrg] (emphasis added)

But wait! Aren’t the French reprocessing nuclear waste? Yes, no, and without much success:

As French government and others studies have shown reprocessing does not solve the nuclear waste problem – it amplifies it. Since the origins of the French nuclear industry some 50 years ago, the management of nuclear waste has been largely neglected. Even today, large quantities of waste remain in unconditioned and unstable form, inventories of historical dump sites are lacking or were lost and one of the largest dump sites in the world near the la Hague reprocessing plant is leaking into the underground water. [CitOrg pdf]

Citing the French “success” is also problematic because of the varying definitions of what IS nuclear waste, and the extent to which the reports of “success” are predicated on the economic needs of the region around la Hague. [NYT]

And, reprocessing is expensive:

“Reprocessing and the use of plutonium as reactor fuel are also far more expensive than using uranium fuel and disposing of the spent fuel directly. In the United States, some 60,000 tons of nuclear waste have already been produced, and existing reactors add some 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel annually. The Energy Department recently released an industry estimate that a reprocessing plant with an annual capacity of 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel would cost up to $20 billion to build—and the U.S. would need two of these to reprocess all its spent fuel. An Argonne National Laboratory scientist recently estimated that the cost premium for reprocessing spent fuel would range from 0.4 to 0.6 cents per kilowatt-hour—corresponding to an extra $3 to $4.5 billion per year for the current U.S. nuclear reactor fleet. The American public would end up having to pay this charge, either through increased taxes or higher electricity bills.”  [UCSUSA](emphasis added)

Thus we have a “solution” to the nuclear waste storage issue that doesn’t solve the problem, doesn’t save anyone any money, and may create more problems than it solves.

There is an alternative, as described by Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-NV1):

“Whether it’s the dump’s $100 billion cost, Nevada’s decades of opposition or the deadly transportation risks it will inflict on our nation, we need to end spending now on Yucca Mountain’s rotting corpse,” said Berkley.  “We should be moving now to require nuclear operators to secure waste in dry cask storage at existing sites.  These hardened containers can keep waste safely isolated for the next 100 years while we find a real solution to addressing our nation’s nuclear waste stockpiles.”

The real solution is to find another source for our electricity generation in the 21st century other than the mid 20th century flirtation with nuclear power.

Arguments like “there’s no Sun at night, and what if the wind stops blowing” are downright silly considering the advancements in solar and wind source technologies.   Worse still, focusing on nuclear power while the rest of the world moves forward makes no economic sense.  To wit:

“Suntech, China’s largest solar cell and panel maker, signed an agreement with CDB for up to 50 billion yuan ($7.33 billion) worth of loans over five years, Rory Macpherson, Suntech’s director for investor relations, told Reuters on Wednesday.” Such deals are unfolding as China aggressively develops its renewable energy sector and as its companies play catch-up with bigger global peers including German solar cell producer Q-Cells AG and Spanish wind farm operator Iberdrola, which have built up solid track records, also with help from more than a decade of government subsidies. [Reuters 4/2010]

Failure to put additional effort into 21st century energy technologies is roughly analogous to having the United States subsidize the buggy whip manufacturers while the rest of the major industrial nations are making automatic transmissions.

The job creation on which we should be focusing are relatively obvious: Nevada has plenty of sunlight and lots of wind — we could be part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem.

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