Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nuclear Waste On Many Fronts

While I am on the subject of clean energy, I must share this from today's NYT. I've heard from many people that nuclear is getting better, safer and cleaner -- no wet clean-up on aisle 6 just yet. (Oops!)

And since the Europeans are embracing it, and are having few, if any, problems, why shouldn't we?

Unfortunately, the United States is not dealing with this very efficiently.
Forgotten but not gone, the waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors that the federal government was supposed to start accepting for burial 10 years ago is still at the reactor sites, at least 20 years behind schedule. But it is making itself felt in the federal budget.

Right off the bat, I have an issue. "Forgotten?" Who forgot about it? Not me, I've been ranting about this for longer than I've had a blog. I must be alone. But let's continue; it gets better. And prepare yourself; this next excerpt contains a word which may offend. That "b" word.
With court orders and settlements, the federal government has already paid the utilities $342 million, but is virtually certain to pay a total of at least $7 billion in the next few years and probably over $11 billion, government officials said. The industry said the total could reach $35 billion.

The payments come from an obscure and poorly understood government account that requires no new Congressional appropriations, and will balloon in size, experts said.

Granted, $35 billion isn't a huge sum in the grand scheme of things, since we're about to hand ourselves $152 billion to help stimulate Wal-Mart the economy and bail us out of a recession. Seriously, how many other instances are there in which a few billion here and a few billion there are tossed out like candy at a parade? It adds up.
At some point, the escalating costs slow down, because some of the expenses for dry storage are incurred only once, like the engineering work, or installation of a crane to get the cask in and out of the spent fuel pool, officials said. But costs rise again at the point where the reactor that generated the fuel becomes too old to run, and is torn down; at that point, the entire expense of the guard force and the maintenance workers are attributable to the waste.

That has already happened in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Let's ditch the idea once and for all that nuclear energy is the long-term solution to our problem, and that it is clean. It is not. We may indeed need to rely on nuclear energy for a long while because we've dragged our ass on so many other fronts, but I sincerely hope we can avoid a proliferation of these beasts and begin to phase them out, and soon.
Each reactor typically creates about 20 tons of waste a year, which is approximately two new casks, at roughly $1 million each. If a repository or interim site opened, clearing the backlog would take decades, experts say. At present, waste is in temporary storage at 122 sites in 39 states.

The Energy Department has launched an initiative to gather the waste and run it through a factory to recover re-usable components, which would allow centralized storage, but that program’s prospects are highly uncertain.

The government has spent $11 billion on Yucca Mountain, Mr. Sproat said. The project has dragged on so long that some of the research data is stored on obsolete computers that must be replaced, program officials said.

Clean, cheap and efficient. Right. But a ton of lawyers must LOVE it.

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