Friday, July 2, 2010

Yucca Yucka

Judges entered a recommendation this week that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule that the Executive branch must pursue the licensing of Yucca Mountain. This would reverse their previous 'withdraw' of the application to license the facility in keeping with the wishes of Congress as expressed in 1982 legislation.

Accurate Reality: Obama withdrew this application to support the wishes of the majority leader, Harry Reed (D- NV). This is bad policy. The way to get free from dependence on oil is to build nuclear plants and shift transportation, the largest consumer of oil, to more dependence on electricity through chargeable hybrids and electric cars. Electricity is a more malleable fuel dependency and can be shifted from fuel to fuel at power plants rather than trying to change out millions of cars. The facility should be opened to support the production of 'green,' cheap and strategically available energy.

1 comment:

  1. Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982 directing the U.S. DOE to build and operate a deep geologic repository for used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Congress set a deadline of 1998 for DOE to begin moving used nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants. DOE has missed every deadline for the project. And in June 2009, President Obama announced he was shutting down Yucca Mountain and naming a blue ribbon panel to recommend new strategies for long term nuclear waste storage. There are several problems with that strategy:
    1. Lack of Authority. The President does not appear to have the authority under the act to cancel the project without Congressional approval.
    2. Breach of Contract. To fund the project, the 1982 legislation created the Nuclear Waste Fund. Beginning in 1983, nuclear power plants have paid fees into the fund to support its operation which now total over $34 billion. The arbitrary cancellation of the project may be a breach of the contracts with those utilities who have relied on the project as a long term solution for waste disposal and now will be subject to greater costs.
    3. Nuclear Life Extension and Upratings Expanding Need. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved four power uprates in the last year and is reviewing 16 more at existing nuclear power plants which, if approved, would add over 1000 MWe to the US nuclear fleet. Over the next five years the NRC estimates that it will receive a total of 39 new power uprate applications totaling 7258 MWt (2419 (MWe).
    4. What’s the Alternative? The alternatives to long term storage are some new science for disposing of the waste which is not now known and years off or continued on-site storage which we can do short-term but such storage increasingly is a bigger security risk.
    Litigation is now pending on this matter in the US court of Appeals in DC seeking to prevent the shutdown and force the Government to finish the job.

    This is part of a broader strategy by opponents of nuclear power to make it even more difficult to build, license and operate new nuclear power plants. But the trade-off is that increases the US dependence on coal and other fossil fuels for power generation. Despite the tremendous growth in renewable energy in the portfolio mix, renewable still represent a small part of the overall energy supply and are not likely to displace baseload generation because of the intermittent nature of renewables. The recession has slowed energy demand and bought time but demand will likely return to historic averages as the economy recovers.

    More than 20% of America’s electric power supply now comes from nuclear baseload generation. Meeting our long term energy needs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires a mix of fuels that provides the least cost, best fit to meet demand at affordable rates with the least environmental impact. If nuclear is not to be part of that baseload mix then reducing our dependence on coal is impossible to achieve. Renewable energy is not an alternative for America’s baseload power generation requirements. Having spent $34 billion to date to build and operate Yucca Mountain we don’t really have a practicable alternative to finishing the job.

    This is not a policy shift as the President described it—it’s pure politics.