Trump’s proposed budget could revive Yucca Mountain

After almost two decades and billions of taxpayer dollars, Yucca Mountain may get another chance.  President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes $120 million to restart licensing for the project.  Fifteen billion dollars were spent to build the repository, but the cost doesn’t stop there.  For 34 years, the government has been collecting fees from the nuclear power utilities to pay for storage of their waste at the facility.  This money would have to be returned if Yucca Mountain is closed for good.  In 2013, the estimate of the cost of inaction was estimated to be $23 billion.  The State of Texas has filed suit against the Federal Government for its failure to provide nuclear waste facilities, specifically Yucca Mountain.

From Wikipedia: The project was approved in 2002 by the United States Congress, but Federal funding for the site ended in 2011 under the Obama Administration via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed on April 14, 2011.[2] The project has had many difficulties and was highly contested by the general public, the Western Shoshone peoples, and many politicians.[3] The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.[2]

This leaves the US government and utilities without any designated long-term storage site for the high-level radioactive waste stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country. The US government disposes of transuranic waste at WIPP in New Mexico, in rooms 2,150 feet (660 m) underground.[4]

The Department of Energy (DOE) is reviewing other options for a high-level waste repository and the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, established by the Secretary of Energy, released its final report in January 2012. It expressed urgency to find a consolidated, geological repository, and said that any future facility should be developed by a new independent organization with direct access to the Nuclear Waste Fund, which is not subject to political and financial control as is the cabinet department of the Department of Energy.[5] In the meantime, most nuclear power plants in the United States have resorted to the indefinite on-site dry cask storage of waste in nearly impervious steel and concrete casks.[6]

Former Senator Harry Reid was the biggest obstacle to Yucca Mountain: On July 18, 2006 the DOE proposed March 31, 2017 as the date to open the facility and begin accepting waste based on full funding. On September 8, 2006 Ward (Edward) Sproat, a nuclear industry executive formerly of PECO energy in Pennsylvania, was nominated by President Bush to lead the Yucca Mountain Project. Following the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections, Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a longtime opponent of the repository, became the Senate Majority Leader, putting him in a position to greatly affect the future of the project. Reid has said that he would continue to work to block completion of the project, and is quoted as having said: “Yucca Mountain is dead. It’ll never happen.”[13]

Sorry, Harry.  Maybe it’s not dead after all.

More background reading here.


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