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United States Politics

How Yucca Mountain Was Killed 340

ATKeiper writes "The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which was selected by the U.S. government in the 1980s to be the nation's permanent facility for storing nuclear waste, is essentially dead. A new article in The New Atlantis explains how the project was killed: 'In the end, the Obama administration succeeded, by a combination of legal authority and bureaucratic will, in blocking Congress's plan for the Yucca Mountain repository — certainly for the foreseeable future, and perhaps permanently.... The saga of Yucca Mountain's creation and apparent demise, and of the seeming inability of the courts to prevent the Obama administration from unilaterally nullifying the decades-old statutory framework for Yucca, illustrates how energy infrastructure is uniquely subject to the control of the executive branch, and so to the influence of presidential politics.' A report from the Government Accountability Office notes that the termination 'essentially restarts a time-consuming and costly process [that] has already cost nearly $15 billion through 2009.'"
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How Yucca Mountain Was Killed

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  • So what (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:21PM (#42209485)

    1) $15 billion is small potatoes if that's all it's cost through now, not per year. 2) This seems like a fairly iffy idea anyway for any number of reasons 3) If you're really concerned about costs, actually read the goddamned report and see (page 27) where it would cost $41-67 billion more to actually complete.

    Cutting off an iffy project that would result in many times its current cost seems like a win.

  • by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:23PM (#42209511)

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. All power has its cost. Yes, even wind and solar.

    Solar panels huge enough to collect loads of energy also cool the ground underneath them; changing climate patterns. And they kill what lives under them. (And if you put them in space, then you have the little problem of transporting the energy.)

    Wind farms huge enough to create loads of energy may actually affect wind patterns and temperature dispersal. Plus they kill loads of migrating birds.

    And both require many, many resources to build and maintain the collection devices.

    Hydro; well, that's an eco-disaster because you have to dam a river to produce it.

    Collecting energy from tides? If you did that on a huge scale, I'll bet it would have some major effects on marine life.

    Just want to put it out there. I'm not saying nuclear is fantastic. Just want to point out that nothing is.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:26PM (#42209553) Journal

    Pretty much, yeah. When you're one of the big guys in the prez' coterie, you get what you want, and Reid (D, NV) got what he wanted. ...of course, we still have to figure out where to put all the $#@%^! nuclear waste, but you know, at least Reid got what he wanted.

    I propose we bury it in LA County, specifically Hollywood - earthquakes be damned.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:32PM (#42209663) Homepage Journal

    end of story

    Blame him if you like, but it's most of the NIMBYs. For years the Dept of Energy performed nuclear tests in the Nevada desert, pockmarking the landscape []. Now traces of radiation have been found in ground water hundreds of miles from the sites, due to the nature of faults in the Basin and Ridge region and movement of underground water. Tends to scare people and they tend to make their will known to their representatives in the capitol.

    Meanwhile, the Hanford site is in dire need (and has been) of shutting down, with no new disposal location in sight. A friend worked at Hanford for a couple years and explained to me how it was never meant to house as much waste as it does and the long-term storage wasn't in the original plans. Old vaults of waste have been found to be developing cracks and been reinforced.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:37PM (#42209703) Journal

    Dunno about the others, but I call bullshit on this bit:

    Solar panels huge enough to collect loads of energy also cool the ground underneath them; changing climate patterns. And they kill what lives under them. (And if you put them in space, then you have the little problem of transporting the energy.)

    Err, no.
    * The panels themselves bear and handle the heat. It isn't as if you're instantly piping all the heat somewhere else, since the panels are bolted to the ground.

    * Shade does not automatically kill everything. You won't find plants under one which demand full sunlight, but anything else (especially animals) would probably appreciate and take advantage of the shade. Finally, if you park the panels in the desert (where nearly nothing grows anyway), it's not even a worry.

    * Energy transport from space to Earth is actually a solved problem. []

  • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:38PM (#42209721)

    So instead of storing highly toxic and radioactive waste deep underground in specially designed and very expensive long term storage meant to keep it safe from all kinds of disasters, we can keep storing it above ground in short-term storage pools that we know will fail if they should be exposed to a decent sized disaster. Keep in mind this isn't storage just for future waste, but stuff that actually exists, right now, sitting in short-term storage, and if you read TFA, you'll find out not only is there no other long-term storage option, there isn't even a plan for one. So who are most people going to blame when (not if, but when, unless we do something about it) those current storage sites fail? I'm betting it won't be Obama. Anyone want to take that bet?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:40PM (#42209761)

    Use it in other types of reactors.

    We know exactly what to do with it, but the sociopaths you stupid fuckheads keep voting into office won't let it happen.

  • Neocon View (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:46PM (#42209819)

    The author Adam J White, is a lawyer specializing in fighting federal regulation and is a contributor to the neocon rag The Weekly Standard (founded by Bill Kristol). This piece places the failure of Yucca mountain singularly on president Obama while saying worshipful things about Reagan every other paragraph.

    So take this "article" with a grain of salt. Any federal regulation is wrong to this neocon and everything is the fault of the current president. There was plenty of controversy and challenges to Yucca before Obama became president.

  • From the article.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:53PM (#42209897)

    "must be stored in isolation for tens of thousands of years"

    I find this to be extremely silly and wrong

    It does not need to be stored for tens of thousands of years

    It needs to be stored until technological and political change turn it from a waste into a valuable material for reuse

  • by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:06PM (#42210035)

    The panels themselves bear and handle the heat. It isn't as if you're instantly piping all the heat somewhere else, since the panels are bolted to the ground.

    Whatever energy the collectors collect is energy that is not left there. Gigantic farms are going to move a lot of energy away from a place.

    Shade does not automatically kill everything. You won't find plants under one which demand full sunlight, but anything else (especially animals) would probably appreciate and take advantage of the shade.

    Well, first, plants are life too. Huge farms are going to kill lots of plants. And the things which eat those plants. And the things which live in/on/around them. Just because they're not visible or edible to you doesn't mean that they don't have wide-ranging impacts on their ecosystem.

    Finally, if you park the panels in the desert (where nearly nothing grows anyway), it's not even a worry.

    And I call bullshit on this one. Deserts are full of life and are fragile ecosystems. Filling a desert with panels would wreck havoc on them.

    Energy transport from space to Earth is actually a solved problem.

    The main criticism of nuclear is about risk of an accident. What happens if your microwave energy beam from space mis-fires?

  • Re:Neocon View (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slew ( 2918 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:24PM (#42210199)

    Regardless of the piece, Obama made it a campaign pledge to stop Yucca Mountain, and stopping it has happened on his watch.

    You can assign Obama blame for this or praise him for doing what he promised to do, but the result is the same and the facts do not appear to be in dispute.

    - A 1987 law passed by congress required the NRC to evalute the Yucca Mountain site for suitability for nuclear waste storage.
    - In fulfilling his campaign promise, the Obama budget didn't allocate any new money to implement this law and Obama told the energy department to withdraw the application to the NRC to build the project.
    - Henry Reed didn't want it in his state, and was successful in blocking further financing for it in the Senate (even theough the House budget funded it), but he did not have the votes to change the original law that required the NRC evaluate the site.
    - It appears the NRC will now be forced by a federal appeals court to spend the previously authorized money to continue to evaluate the site until the money is gone (there isn't enough money to complete the evaluation) because of the 1987 law passed by congress.

    Certainly there are many problems with Yucca, but it appears that the NRC will be effectively prohibited to publish its report on Yucca Mountain by budgetary manuevers to cut off it's funding w/o actually overturning the law that authorized the evaluation. It probably wasn't gonna happen anyways (even Romney was against Yucca Mountain), so all that money was just a sunk cost. I guess the ends justifies the means in this case...

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:28PM (#42210241)

    Actually I like this system : for a long term project to succeed, it requires it to be consistent, non-partisan and well done

    This is as much about regional as partisan politics, although both have a role. The US is a relatively weak federation in important respects, and the ability of regional power bases to disrupt national policy is considerable.

    In science and technology, this usually appears as pork for supporters: various bits of the space shuttle (most famously, the SRBs) had to be made in particular states to garner the support of the appropriate senators.

    For single-site projects, like the superconducting supercolider in the '80's, everyone was for it until a specific site was identified, at which point everyone but the representatives from that state (Texas, I think), and that concerted opposition was enough to kill it.

    In the case of Yucca Mountain, the representatives from Nevada (notably Harry Reid) were able to concentrate their opposition, while no one was particularly zealous in favour of it.

    So in the US, single-site projects that have high political or economic costs or benefits to the state involved tend to fail. This is built in to the US system of regional representation.

    As such, local storage of waste--which would eliminate the decidedly non-negligible transport risk--is likely the only viable solution for Americans, because your government is structurally incapable of sustaining any other solution.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:39PM (#42210333)
    This article was written by the same kind of neoconservative that Penn and Teller represent. Teller is a fellow at The Cato Institute. The author of this article writes for The Weekly Standard. Both of these are very far right organizations and the article, like Bullshit! is overflowing with anti-government bias.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:54PM (#42210515)

    Nevada was selected for the Nation's dangerous nuclear activities PRECISELY because it was barren and relatively unpopulated. Having polluted it with many nuclear blasts over decades, we effectively made it even MORE appropriate that we concentrate all the waste there.

    Any civilian who moved there after the testing began in the 1940's has no right to complain; that's like moving into a house next to the airport (which you guy at a discount because of the noise) and then demanding the airport get shut down because it is depressing the value of your home

    What could possibly be WORSE than putting all the waste into a single multi-billion dollar containment facility (designed by the nation's top scientists in the field) where it can be guarded and monitored? Oh... let's seeee.... the OBMA PLAN: let it accumulate in various containers at power plants and medical facilities all over the country with dubious monitoring/guarding.

    Even if we were to abandon nuclear power (not gonna happen... we will always have nuclear-powered naval vessels) we would still produce lots of nuclear waste in industry and in the medical field, so the current no-plan plan is mind-blowingly stupid and short-sighted

  • by kaatochacha ( 651922 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:57PM (#42210557)

    oh, I think you overestimate the "not a worry" of the desert: []

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @08:13PM (#42210683)

    The real problem is that nobody wants nuclear waste because it is... well, radioactive, duh!
    This is the core problem with nuclear (fission) energy. There is no way to deal with the radioactive waste. Nobody wants it anywhere. Nobody wants the risk of disease. Everybody is a nuclear NIMBY.
    Much better to look at other sources of energy which don't have this waste problem which is qualitatively much different than any other industrial process.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @08:19PM (#42210725)

    Most US nuclear waste (by volume) is NOT spent fuel rods (it IS by weight, because the stuff's so damn heavy). We produce lots and lots of radioactive waste in the medical field and in various industrial processes and NONE of that is going into a breeder reactor. The Nation needed a solution and pre-Obama we had a national bi-partisan solution into which we poured billions of dollars: Yucca Mountain. Post-Obama, we will need a solution and there will still be no better place. Like nearly everything else the man is "kicking down the road" it will have to be dealt with later (when it will be both more painful and more expensive) ... and, like his bloated spending, it will be the young dopes who supported him who will pay the biggest price in the latter halves of their lives.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @09:42PM (#42211457) Homepage

    Probably an acid of some sort.

    The waste at those sites is not merely nuclear waste.

    I knew somebody who had some connection to one of those sites, and he gave an interesting presentation on the mess that is left. Poor records were kept, so nobody really knows what is in those underground tanks. All kinds of stuff was dumped into tanks with little regard for compatibility. The mixtures in the tanks are not homogenous, which means that over time you get stuff happening as things mix and diffuse, and you can get buildups of stuff like hydrogen which of course can threaten to blow the whole tank up (talk about a mess with all that radioactive waste mixed in).

    I have no doubt that a concerted effort could clean up the mess, but nobody wants to deal with it - let it blow up on somebody else's watch (I'm sure there is significant risk of an environmental disaster if the site is disturbed to try to remediate it, and what administration wants that on their watch?).

    Just as with Yucca Mountain - the status quo is good enough for a few more years, and if something bad happens you could just say you were doing what everybody else did and "who could have seen that coming?" Worked for New Orleans, worked for the housing crash, will work for the next time a President keeps his head in the sand like all those before him.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @10:33PM (#42211855)

    What crack are you smoking? In theory it was safe - in reality the geological structures were considerably more flawed and fractured than the perfection assumed by the theory, revised analysis painted a very different picture. Yucca Mountain *might* be able to safely contain the waste for a few centuries, at which point you now have a glowing, radioactive hellhole that's beginning to leak into the water table and will require MAJOR cleanup because the waste won't be substantially less radioactive for a few thousand more years. Do you want to count on politicians actually funding said cleanup?

    I agree we do need a solution though. Yucca Mountain would be perfectly adequate if all we were storing was low-level waste. Even mid-level waste would probably be okay, that stuff is mostly harmless in a few centuries. And if we would just start reprocessing spent fuel again then that would be pretty much all we have, the high level waste is basically a mix of mid-level waste and perfectly good fuel, it's just become cheaper to dig up more fresh uranium than separate it out. Here's an idea - charge a "reprocessing deposit" on all nuclear fuel purchased, said deposit being held in escrow to finance the reprocessing when the fuel is spent so that reprocessed fuel has a sizable market advantage. Boom, problem solved.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @11:13PM (#42212069)
  • by daemonenwind ( 178848 ) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @11:54PM (#42212315)

    It's worth noting a few things about the Yucca Mountain project that are not apparent from your post:

    -The Department of Energy first started investigating Yucca Mountain in 1978, under Jimmy Carter (D).

    -The site was supposed to begin accepting nuclear waste for storage in 1998 under Ronald Reagan (R)

    -The county in which the storage facility lies backs the site; it's other Nevadans who do not

    -The site was only shut down when a Nevadan had control of the Senate by supermajority, and his party held the House and the Presidency. Since that time, any bill which could force the President into a difficult decision has been blocked in the Senate. Considering that the Department of Energy is a Presidental Cabinet department, the horsetrade is obvious, and the terrific national cost is both clear and disregarded.

    The project was consistent and and non-partisan, having crossed through periods of control by either party. (Carter D, Reagan R, Bush R, Clinton D, Bush R) Until after the 2008 elections, that is.

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