Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

Currently: 66° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Nevada lawmakers applaud panel’s nuclear-waste recommendations

Image

SUN FILE PHOTO

A train operator waits for passengers at the Yucca Mountain Exploratory Studies Facility in 2006.

In its final report released Thursday, the Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste management endorsed the idea of a geological repository for spent nuclear fuel, and said the lack of development at Yucca Mountain was a sign of a troubled national nuclear waste policy.

They also said the siting process for such a repository should be “consent-driven.”

Nevada lawmakers who have fought to stop the development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain for years opted to take the latter conclusion to heart as the guiding one, and praised the report.

“The Yucca Mountain project failed and is now a relic of the past,” Sen. Harry Reid said. “Most importantly, this report makes abundantly clear that no state, tribe or community should be forced to store spent nuclear fuel or high-level waste without its express consent.”

“The Blue Ribbon Commission is making an effort to solve the difficult issues surrounding spent fuel and radioactive material disposal,” Sen. Dean Heller said. “This report provides a path forward for safe, responsible nuclear waste storage so the nation can move beyond Yucca Mountain once and for all.”

“The changes in nuclear waste policy called for by the commission will lift a threat to Nevada’s future that has hung like a dark cloud over the Silver State for decades,” Rep. Shelley Berkley said. “These findings represent a stark warning about the need to move forward immediately on securing nuclear waste at existing reactor sites in dry cask storage as I have advocated for years.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office expressed a slightly more reserved, but also positive response.

“Overall, we’re pleased,” said Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Nevada had asked for language that recommended “voluntary siting” for a spent nuclear fuel storage facility — the commissioners opted for “consent-based siting.” In addition, the Western Governors’ Association had argued that building such a facility would require the written consent of the state’s governor.

“(The task force) hasn’t quite gone that far. That’s detail they should have gone further on,” Halstead said.

The report even got the thumbs-up of a Republican presidential candidate — though his praise for the commission didn’t extend to the president who formed it.

“Gov. Romney is pleased to see that the commission’s recommendations align with the approach that he has advocated,” said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Mitt Romney. “The nation must reject President Obama’s politicization of the issue and allow Yucca Mountain or any other potential site to be judged on the basis of sound science. But no state should be forced to accept the nation’s nuclear waste against its will.

“Instead, the federal government should offer Nevada terms that would make acceptance of the site attractive,” Romney’s spokesman continued. “If the people of Nevada do not want the site, then the federal government should allow other states to identify potential sites and bid for the terms on which they would accept the waste.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 4 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. How about Martha's Vineyard!

  2. All of this reminds me of an MSNBC interview almost exactly ten years ago. What I said almost got me fired, appropriately, for insubordination. I had been told to keep my contribution to the interview technical, not political, I had been hired for my scientific work, not my personal opinions.

    OK, fair enough, my bad. So what did I say that got me in trouble: I said siting this repository here was a cowardly act by Congress and it could never happen again (these are excerpts only, the article is very long):

    'Cowardly' Congress
    Yucca critics say Nevada lost out because it didn't have the political clout to block its selection.
    Van Luik says he understands the anger. Congress "cowardly tried to shove it down the throat of Nevada," he says.
    But once the decision was made, he adds, it was the Energy Department's task to study and test Yucca's suitability. Since then, Nevadans have been "scared by their politicians," Van Luik says.

    Finland's example
    Finland, which started its process after the United States, is likely to have a repository before one is ever built here.
    Van Luik is well aware of Finland's experience and hopes that the next time U.S. policymakers try to sell a site -- by law they're supposed to start working on a new one once the first is completed -- they'll improve on their public relations, perhaps offering financial incentives to boot.
    He likes the geology of North and South Dakota for a future underground repository. But Van Luik realizes that South Dakota is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and he knows that politics is the name of the nuclear waste game.
    "They'll never again be able to do what we did here," he says, "which is force it on Nevada."

    So here we are ten years later! If asked my opinion now, what would it be? The same, except that instead of pointing to clayey shale as my then-favorite geologic medium (not unlike what France will be using for their repository), I now point to deep rock-salt as my personal favorite (the same medium being investigated for the same purpose in Germany).

    The BRC report points to Carlsbad, New Mexico, as a place where siting a repository was done correctly. After 12 years of safe operations and 12-million miles of safe loaded transportation, the people there are clamoring for expanding their already substantial role in solving the nation's nuclear waste problem. Governor Martinez of New Mexico sent a letter to Secretary Chu endorsing this local volunteerism.

    The governor cautioned that before she is willing to make a decision, she wants scientific work done to evaluate placing hot waste in salt. I hope the nation follows the BRC recommendations and treats New Mexico and Carlsbad as a volunteer state and a volunteer community. Progress can then be made, rapidly, just like in Finland!

  3. My, what Wrath!

    <<to get them [meaning NRC] to kneecap the science>>

    On the contrary, the series of Technical Evaluation Reports issued by the NRC staff in the place of Safety Evaluation Reports that would have been issued had licensing continued, said that the scientific work done by the Department met their expectations. They had very few additional issues they wanted to address during the next phase of the project, had there been a next phase.

    The objections by the state and others would have been largely overturned in licensing, with just a few translating into 'conditions' written into the license that would have told DOE to address them during construction.

    Yucca would have been safe.

    But the question now is, what is the best thing to do for the nation? It would be much cheaper to do a new repository right next to the one currently functioning in New Mexico. It would be fast, because a few holes would show continuity of the salt with the existing repository.

    Much work was already done to test how rock-salt would react to heat in its waste loading because originally this repository was going to also take hot waste. Some few years of additional testing is needed to confirm that earlier work, and cooperation with Germany, which is also working on a rock-salt repository for hot waste will add confidence to what we (and they) need to know.

    If water could access the salt, it would have done so over the last 250-million years (the salt was laid down in the time before dinosaurs!) and that means there would be no salt there today. So the salt having been there for 250 million years is good evidence of long-term stability.

    With no water, and no oxygen in the salt at depth, there is no need for the expensive metals that would have been used in Yucca, and that savings alone makes up for all the money spent on Yucca!

  4. Sure I believe in dinosaurs, I have it on good authority that I am one.

    What is a dry tunnel in hard rock that goes nowhere good for? One that requires lots of expensive ventilation to keep naturally occurring radon from building up to unhealthful levels?

    Dry holes are typically quite useless.

    But it could be a good storage site for materials that don't require much of a human presence.

    Someone once suggested to use the place to store commercial business records, like an off-site archive for legal purposes. You would only need to ventilate when you are depositing or retrieving. Not a bad idea.

    Otherwise, quite useless.