Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lives on the Line, Now Going to Overtime

It was supposed to be dead. Over three years ago, the US Department of Energy formally withdrew its application to complete the long proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. But today, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals looked to breathe new life into the "Screw Nevada" plan.

A federal appeals court said on Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can no longer delay a decision on whether to issue a permit for the long-stalled nuclear waste project at Yucca Mountain, Nev. 

On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the commission to promptly decide to license the project or reject the application. 

The Obama administration, which picks the Senate-confirmed commissioners, wants to abandon the project.

So what now? Is Yucca back? Not so fast, says Senator Harry Reid (D). He plans to continue blocking funding for the project... Though he's not enthusiastic about another plan that could end the proposed radioactive waste dump for good.

That leaves only two barriers to Nevada getting dumped with the nation’s nuclear waste: Sen. Harry Reid’s ability to block funding – which depends entirely on Democrats keeping a majority in the Senate – or a scientific determination that Yucca Mountain is unfit. [...]

“We’re not going to get any laws passed to change this,” Reid told reporters during a summit on clean energy in Las Vegas on Tuesday, blaming Tea Party opposition for stymieing any positive momentum toward siting a new repository [which Nevada's other Members of Congress have been attempting to do].

Still, Senator Reid sounds confident Yucca's new lease on life will soon expire (again).

“With no disrespect to the court, this decision means nothing,” Reid said. “Yucca Mountain is an afterthought.”

So what's next? The State of Nevada and/or federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) can appeal this to the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the NRC can simply rule on the merits (or lack thereof) of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. And as mentioned above, Congress can theoretically (re)consider legislation to site another location for long-term nuclear waste storage.

Oh, and the rest of the nation can reconsider the merits (or lack thereof) of nuclear power. After all, there's a reason why most here don't want all this radioactive waste in our back yard. And there's a reason why these other states with active nuclear power plants want to dump this radioactive waste in Nevada. Hint: This shit is fucking dangerous.

Radioactive waste is tremendously dangerous. Plutonium-239, for example, if inhaled in quantities as small as a millionth of an ounce, will cause cancer with a virtual 100 percent statistical certainty. The nation’s nuclear plants have produced hundreds of tons of plutonium alone. It is among the most dangerous of the waste products, toxic to humans for as much as half a million years. It and the other long-lived radionuclides in high-level waste need to be isolated from the environment for periods vastly longer than any government has even existed. We have no idea what to do with this devilish creation. The latest effort to develop a national storage center in Yucca Mountain, Nev. was finally shelved [until today?] after considerable expense, because it was not a safe enough site — and already too small.

Perhaps the biggest problem with nuclear power is its connection to the proliferation of atomic bombs. Each San Onofre reactor, for example, produced enough weapons-usable plutonium annually to make 100 A-bombs. The technology to enrich uranium for power plants can readily enrich to the bomb-grade levels, as demonstrated by the international concerns about Iran’s activities. The world cannot survive if we do not reverse proliferation risks, and we cannot do that while proliferating civil uses of the same materials and technologies.

Then there is the nuclear terrorism risk. Each nuclear plant is in some fashion a pre-emplaced nuclear weapon for our adversaries. While reactors cannot blow up like an atomic bomb, they can release vast quantities of fallout if a malevolent force successfully disrupted the cooling sufficient to cause a meltdown. Each San Onofre unit, for example, contained a thousand times the long-lived radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb.

Nuclear power is far from "clean" and/or "safe". We in Nevada have had to learn this the hard way. And now, it looks like the fight to stop the Yucca nuclear waste dump is going into overtime after all. Once again, lives are on the line. Can this (again) be stopped in time?

No comments:

Post a Comment