Nuclear Fuel: Waste Not, Want Not
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
January 17, 2008
Power: On the eve of the Nevada caucus, Democrats fall over each another opposing storage of the nation's nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain Repository. But is it really waste or the ultimate form of renewable energy?
At a debate Tuesday, the Democrats' three blind mice were asked if they would kill the nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas. All said they would, demonstrating once again their party's energy policy consists mainly of hot air from the podium.
An underground train enters Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Democratic opposition has delayed plans to turn the site into a nuclear waste dump.
Trial lawyer and one-term senator John Edwards added that he was not only against Yucca Mountain but against nuclear power altogether. "I am against building more nuclear power plants because I do not think we have a safe way to dispose of the waste," he said.
Except that Edwards doesn't mind keeping America's nuclear waste where it is right now — in everybody else's back yard.
Vast numbers of spent nuclear fuel rods are currently being stored at more than 130 above-ground facilities in 39 states. Approximately 161 million Americans live within 75 miles of these existing sites. Each is a terrorist's dream target.
Sen. Barack Obama said he'd "end the notion of Yucca Mountain because it has not been based on the sort of sound science that can assure the people of Nevada that they're going to be safe."
The fact that his home state of Illinois has more nuclear plants than any other, he said, made it all the more noble that he has stood against the project.
Noble? The closed nuclear power plant at Zion, just north of Chicago and 120 yards from Lake Michigan, holds 2.7 million pounds of spent fuel rods. Nearly 4,500 metric tons of nuclear waste in Illinois awaits permanent storage. Obama thinks it's just fine the way it is.
As for Sen. Hillary Clinton, she said she's been "consistently against Yucca Mountain." And indeed she has.
"Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store spent fuel from our nation's nuclear reactors," she stated at a Senate hearing in October. In her response to a Las Vegas Sun questionnaire, Hillary said: "I'm working with (Nevada senator) Harry Reid to starve it to death."
Yucca Mountain is possibly the safest, most geologically stable and most studied place on the planet. It abuts Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site. Even if terrorists managed to penetrate repository security and the mountain itself, the worst-case scenario might be a mild release of radioactivity in the middle of a desert, not a death cloud descending on a major metropolitan area.
The storage facility is supposed to hold 77,000 tons of nuclear waste for thousands of years in a single secure site. Yucca Mountain would be the solution offered by Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson: "Put all your eggs in one basket and — watch that basket."
But there may be an even better solution: Recycle spent fuel rods to produce even more greenhouse-gas-reducing nuclear energy.
Over the past four decades, America's reactors have produced about 56,000 tons of used fuel. Jack Spencer, research fellow for nuclear energy policy at the Thomas A. Rowe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, says this "waste" has enough energy to power every U.S. household for a dozen years.
As we've noted, France long ago achieved energy independence by relying on nuclear energy for most of its power needs. But it also leads the world in processing this waste to create even more energy.
The French have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel for 30 years without incident. There have been no accidental explosions, no terrorist attacks, no contribution to nuclear proliferation. Their facility in La Hague has safely processed more than 23,000 tons of spent fuel, or enough to power the entire country for 14 years.
The U.S. pioneered the technology to recapture that energy decades ago, then banned its commercial use in 1977. An energy plan that does not involve continued and even increased use of nuclear power is no plan at all. And even if we closed all nuclear plants tomorrow, the waste problem would remain.
Power to the people — nuclear power.