Yucca Mountain Is BACK

EHJ President Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain in 2005.

EHJ President Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain in 2005.

After spending $11 billion, the Energy Department met with unrelenting opposition from Nevada and was forced to shut down the program at Yucca Mountain in 2010.

At an estimated cost of $100 billion, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump would rival the International Space Station in cost and complexity, requiring construction of roughly 300 miles of new railroad tracks to transport the waste, development of advanced robots to work underground and fabrication of special titanium shields to keep the waste intact for, it is hoped, hundreds of thousands of years.

The $120 million outlined by Trump this month in his budget blueprint would restart the ponderous licensing process that was abandoned by the Obama administration and begin plans for a temporary storage facility at an undetermined location.

With 99 operating reactors, supplying about 20% of the nation’s electricity, and four more under construction, the nuclear industry considers a permanent storage facility such as Yucca Mountain to be a top priority. About two dozen more retired or demolished plants have stranded waste in need of a permanent home.

Yucca Mountain began with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, a 1982 law that called for the establishment of two nuclear waste dumps, one in the eastern U.S., one in the West. But in 1987, Congress directed the Energy Department to put a single dump in Nevada, ending what was supposed to be a process of scientific evaluation. 

Nevada has filed some 300 legal “contentions” against the Energy Department’s license, each of which must be examined by a special board. The state is swinging into action to file even more contentions if the license action is resumed.

The nation's nuclear utilities have won judgments and settlements of $6.1 billion, arguing that the government’s failure to take the waste has increased their storage and operation cost. And the Energy Department has projected that it may be liable for up to $25 billion more.  (New York Times, 3/29/2017)