Yucca Mountain backers may have been a little, shall we say premature, in their glee two months ago when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), under court order, released Volume 3 of the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for the project.
That section of the SER concluded that the Department of Energy’s design for the Yucca Mountain project indicates “compliance with the performance objectives and requirements that apply after the repository is permanently closed.”
Those Yucca cheerleaders were unrestrained in their exuberance. As we reported at the time, House Energy Committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) called the report “game-changing,” and said the American public can now have confidence that the repository would be in fact “safe for a million years.” Other cheerleaders issued similar rah rah statements.
Of course, as we also pointed out at the time, even the NRC urged caution: “Publication of Volume 3 does not signal whether the NRC might authorize construction of the repository,” the NRC stated in a press release accompanying release of the volume.
Rep. Upton et al would have done well to heed the NRC’s warning, because yesterday, the other shoe dropped when the NRC released Volume 4 of the SER.
Oops. That volume points out a little problem for the project: The Department of Energy does not have the water rights necessary for the project, nor does it control the land necessary for the project.
And the state of Nevada already has denied water rights to the DOE and successfully beat back an effort by the agency to force the state to hand over those rights.
Now, of course, even DOE is opposed to the Yucca Mountain project and has no interest in pursuing more legal battles it likely would lose to try to gain those water rights.
As for land control, that might be even more difficult. The NRC noted that “the land is not free of significant encumbrances such as mining rights, deeds, rights-of-way or other legal rights.”
Getting through all those legal obstacles would be a nightmare for DOE, which, again, no longer supports Yucca Mountain anyway.
Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader (until January anyway) Harry Reid said, “This is just one reason why the Yucca Mountain project will never be built and Congress should instead focus on consent-based solutions that don’t shove nuclear waste down a community’s throat over the objections of its people.”
As the Las Vegas Review-Journal put it: “The findings delivered a blow to a cadre of lawmakers on Capitol Hill and nuclear industry executives trying to resurrect the nuclear waste project that has been mothballed by the Obama administration.”
Reality has rarely dissuaded the nuclear power industry nor its Capitol Hill backers, and little things like the federal government not holding the necessary water rights and land control for Yucca Mountain to proceed aren’t likely to prevent new legislative efforts next year to get the project moving. Those little things won’t prevent legislation, but they will prevent Yucca Mountain from becoming operational. Congress can pass whatever bad and impossible-to-implement legislation it wants, as it has demonstrated before; but that won’t change reality.
The biggest impact of this development could be the bolstering of those in Congress, and in the nuclear industry, who are less concerned with Yucca Mountain and more interested in getting the industry’s lethal radioactive waste anywhere away from its reactor sites. In other words, to an “interim” storage site, most likely a glorified parking lot where hundreds to thousands of casks of that lethal waste could sit–according to NRC policy–in perpetuity.
After all, if the NRC says that type of essentially permanent unprotected above-ground parking lot storage is ok–and the NRC’s replacement of its waste confidence policy says exactly that–why bother with a real radioactive waste repository located somewhere where it might actually isolate the radiation from the environment? Never mind the risks of transporting thousands of casks to a supposedly “interim” site, from where they’ll have to be moved again–and never mind that that “interim” site could become permanent even though it doesn’t meet any of the safety criteria established for a real repository (criteria Yucca Mountain couldn’t meet–at least until the criteria were weakened precisely because Yucca couldn’t meet them).
We should note that the NRC policy has been challenged in federal court by numerous organizations, including NIRS. It was a federal court that struck down the agency’s waste confidence policy in the first place; there is certainly reason to hope the court will find the NRC’s replacement for it equally inadequate.
The risks that the scientifically-indefensible Yucca Mountain site will ever open were substantially reduced yesterday. The risks to the public from the nation’s failed radioactive waste policies haven’t changed at all.
December 19, 2014
Note: GreenWorld will now take a holiday break. We will return (bigger and better, of course!) early in the new year. We hope all of our readers have a terrific holiday season, a wondrous new year, and an increasingly nuclear-free, carbon-free 2015. That last one is a certainty….
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