Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Yucca Mountain Matters

Yesterday evening UPI put a little story in their Science section that should give people pause about how serious the incoming Obama administration is on a host of issues - from national security to energy independence to personal health.
Obama, as well as the other Democrats who ran for president, publicly opposed storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste at the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal said Monday.

Or in Sen. Obama's own words to the Las Vegas Review Journal:

"After spending billions of dollars on the Yucca Mountain Project, there are still significant questions about whether nuclear waste can be safely stored there," Obama wrote in a May 2007 letter to the Review-Journal.
"I believe a better short-term solution is to store nuclear waste on-site at the reactors where it is produced, or at a designated facility in the state where it is produced, until we find a safe, long-term disposal solution that is based on sound science.
"In the meantime, I believe all spending on Yucca Mountain should be redirected to other uses, such as improving the safety and security of spent fuel at plant sites around the country and exploring other long-term disposal options," he wrote.

As Obama alludes to in the above quote, right now all the nuclear waste generated by this country's 104 nuclear power plants are being stored on site at each power plant. How is this more safe than Yucca Mountain? Or 50 sites? Isn't it better to guard just one or maybe two storage sites?

Far more worrisome is how much waste is out there being guarded at all these disparate sites. The waste accumulates at 2,000 tons a year and Yucca Mountain's storage limit of 77,000 tons is about to be reached and its not supposed to open until 2020, so the DoE is already seeking an expansion. At the idle Trojan Nuclear Plant near Ranier, WA, there are 4,700 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods being stored. And it seems Obama and his supporters want to leave such piles of waste scattered about the country instead of centrally storing. How is this responsible stewardship?

What goes hand in hand with central storage is centralized security. It is easier and cheaper to guard one site than it is to guard all 131 sites now storing all of this waste. In then post 9/11 days that should be an important factor to consider. Just think if Timothy McVeigh had put just one spent nuclear fuel rod in that van filled with ANFO in Oklahoma City, OK? I rest my case on the need of more centralized security.

Last and not least, what also constitutes nuclear waste is all that old medical scanning equipment. Last year the Department of Homeland Security turned away 64 shipments because they were contaminated by radioactivity. It seems around the world in places like the Peoples Republic of China and India, if the metal makes it to their smelters it is being melted down and recycled. In Spain, one such case set off radiation monitors in Italy and France who thought Russia had suffered another nuclear accident. Some people in France got a medical scan every time they pressed an elevator button, you guessed right as the buttons were made from recycled radioactive material. Or how about an apartment complex built with contaminated steel.

A study of 6,252 Taiwanese people who lived in apartments built with radioactive reinforcing steel found that 117 cancer cases were diagnosed from 1983 to 2005. The research showed a statistically significant increase in leukemia and breast cancer.

But since Nevada Senator Harry Reid leads the Democrats in a chamber they control, we may have to consider Yucca Mountain sacrificed to appease a powerful politician's NIMBY attitude. After all, on November 1 this is what Reid had to say about Yucca Mountain.

"Listen, Yucca Mountain's gone. Obama's president, Yucca Mountain's history,"

And with that the end of nuclear power as an option to wean this country off its foreign oil dependence. We, the citizens of this country, need to let our representatives in Washington DC know that we can not afford to let this happen. That Yucca Mountain is needed right now, not held hostage by politics or fringe activists.


Sharku said...

I think Obama has a plan to get the waste out of the country.... sell it to the Iranians or some other country that doesnt like us.

Anna said...

I hope you are wrong, though pondering Amadjihadi with a healthy 'glow' does bring a michevious smile to my face.