No Rush To Replace Yucca Mountain: Adding US Nuclear Generation Capacity More Critical

Rene Descartes image
Portrait of René Descartes.
Image credit:Wikipedia

A panel of nuclear-power experts, meeting at MIT recently, made the point that now that the Obama administration wants to take completing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository 'off the table,' finding an alternative is relatively low priority.

Per the report in Technology Review: "A much more urgent issue, the experts said, is pushing forward the permitting and construction of new nuclear-power plants." I hadn't noticed a preceding rush to finish Yucca Mountain. So, what has changed?

As you would expect from panel members from academia, it is important to get more Federal money for researching ways to improve nuclear reactors.

And of course, there is a 'rush' to add nuclear power capacity because of it's low carbon footprint. (When ever I hear this argument I want to know if they are counting the energy and water inputs needed for fuel extraction and processing. Probably not.)US Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, and who was present for the panel discussion, aptly pointed out that, on large issues, Congress is moved to act significantly only in crisis mode. An interesting insight.

Because climate and nuclear waste management both are perceived as less than critically-urgent by today's Congress, proposals for the addition of nuclear power and for nuclear waste disposal are likely to languish.

One of the comments left on the Tech Review site is a doosey.

...According to a U.S. Department of Energy report, the initial heat produced by U.S. nuclear waste will be on the order of 30 to 50 times the heat flux in the Geysers geothermal reservoir in California. This is the equivalent output of 50 operational reactors. Venting this heat to the atmosphere contributes in its own right to heating up the atmosphere.

The more logical solution is to use this heat to pyrolyze U.S. oil shale...

"Logic" infers a willingness to undertake careful, rational, long-range planning, whereas Congress, correctly stated, generally operates in an emotional, reactive manner to issues at this scale.

Prospective solutions.
1.) Elect more scientists and logically disciplined representatives to Congress. (not going to happen).
2.) Wait for a crisis: climate catastrophe or otherwise.
3.) Manufacture a pseudo-crisis.

My bet, relative to the US Congress moving ahead, would be on #2 as the driver.

In anticipation of comments to the effect that 'we should be more like France:' France is roughly the size of the US State of Texas and has a far smaller cumulative nuclear power generating capacity than the US. What seems to differentiate French governance from the USA is a greater willingness to plan carefully ahead. Hence, the existence of effective nuclear waste processing facilities there. Might have something to do with the long tradition of Descarte (as pictured).

Three related posts.

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