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  • Energy Secretary Admits Nuclear Waste Commission Will Not Consider Yucca

    Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development last Wednesday, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged to the committee that he explicitly directed the Blue Ribbon Commission charged with recommending a nuclear waste storage policy to the Obama Administration to strike the Yucca Mountain repository from its purview.  This is unfortunate, as considering Yucca would add significant credibility to the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which held its first meeting last week.  By asking the committee not even to consider Yucca Mountain, the Administration is solidifying the criticism that it is basing its decision on politics rather than scientific or technical data.

    Secretary Chu’s written statement submitted to the subcommittee only says concerning the Yucca decision that “The Administration has determined that developing a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada is not a workable option…”  Indeed, for over a year the Administration has insisted that there are better options than Yucca Mountain for dealing with storage of the nation’s nuclear waste, and the Administration has all the while expressed confidence that an impartial review by the Blue Ribbon Commission would show that its position on Yucca is the right one.  Given Secretary Chu’s admission before the House subcommittee, however, it is plain that the Administration is not, after all, confident in the soundness of its decision as adjudged apart from political considerations.

    Make no mistake, the science so far very clearly shows that Yucca could safely house the nation’s nuclear waste.  As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “As recently as late last year, the DOE Web site said 20 years of research and billions of dollars-worth of scientific work found that the Yucca Mountain repository ‘brings together the location, natural barriers, and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public.’”

    And yet, the Obama Administration is not just attempting to take Yucca off the table for the foreseeable future.  No—the Administration wants to really kill Yucca for good, and has accordingly chosen to go down a procedural path that, if decided in the Administration’s favor, will result in a permanent and irreversible termination of the Yucca project.  On this topic, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) questioned Secretary Chu about why the Administration would opt for the most extreme measure in its effort to end Yucca when less stringent options were available to the Administration.  The most that Chu could do to explain the decision was to say that the Administration wanted to send a clear message about its intention not to go forward with Yucca.  Anyone who has been following the fate of Yucca knows that the Administration’s intention to terminate Yucca has never been in doubt.  Chu’s response does nothing to explain why the Administration has chosen such a drastic means of achieving its goal.

    Such a decision, made without a rational basis, does not bode well for the future of nuclear energy.  Indeed, as Heritage Research Fellow in Nuclear Energy Policy Jack Spencer has said, “The Administration’s Yucca policy signals once again that the government cannot be a trusted partner.”  A geologic repository is critical to the realization of a nuclear energy renaissance in America, and there’s nothing scientific or technological that says Yucca cannot be that repository.  The Obama Administration is jeopardizing America’s energy future by advancing political interests ahead of the national interest.

    If President Obama and Secretary Chu were truly confident that there are better ways to manage nuclear waste than Yucca, then they would have no reason to fear what an open inquiry on the part of the Blue Ribbon Commission would find.  Clearly, the president and the secretary do not have such confidence in the defensibility of their decision to end the Yucca Mountain repository project.

    Instead of rejecting the repository outright and thus potentially undermining the credibility of the Commission’s conclusions, the commission should recommend how to specifically resolve the Yucca Mountain impasse.  The commission should first make a technical and scientific conclusion about Yucca Mountain’s viability based on the data available.  If it determines that Yucca is not technically viable, then it should simply defend that conclusion.  However, if the commission concludes that it is viable and still determines that Yucca Mountain is not fit for nuclear waste disposal, then it should also state why that site should not be part of a comprehensive national nuclear waste disposition strategy and put forth a detailed recommendation on how to disengage from the program.

    This disengagement strategy should include how to repay to electricity ratepayers the $8 billion in sunk costs that have already been invested in Yucca and a legal analysis of how its conclusions affect the U.S. government’s ability to fulfill its legal obligations to dispose of America’s nuclear waste.  Finally, it should make recommendations on whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should continue with its review of the Department of Energy’s permit application to build the Yucca repository.

    Jeff Witt is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/About/Internships-Young-Leaders/The-Heritage-Foundation-Internship-Program

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    13 Responses to Energy Secretary Admits Nuclear Waste Commission Will Not Consider Yucca

    1. John Farmer, SLC UT says:

      The need for our countries ‘blue ribbon’ commission on long term nuclear by products to possess renowned diplomatic skills (via co-chairs Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, and Brent Scowcroft ) is just further verification that irrational fear trumps science when dealing with anything radioactive. However, the fact that irrational fear is so prevalent throughout our nation does not necessarily exclude this commission from developing an economically viable solution for our long term nuclear by products. The importance of developing an economically viable solution can not be overstated.

      It is important that the US tax payers do not have to pay for a long term solution that is fear driven. In these days of world competitiveness the US tax payer and or utility user should not have to pay for unnecessary storage requirements. Secondly and even more importantly, it is a reality that the anti nuclear establishment has continuously pursued overly burdensome regulations of nuclear by products as back door attempt to prevent the future development of nuclear power. Due to the art of compromise that occurs on ‘blue ribbon’ commissions it would only take a few member who base their beliefs on fear over that of science for this committee to recommend unduly burdensome ‘solutions’ that could jeopardize the future competitiveness of nuclear power.

      In a pursuit to find a safe and economical solution to long term nuclear by products this ‘politically savvy’ commission should take several actions. First and most importantly the committee needs to declare that long term nuclear by products are not ‘nuclear waste’ but in fact a future energy sources. From Bill Gates TeraWave reactor to the EBR-II reactor (EBR-II was an Integral Fast Reactor which was successfully built and run at Idaho National Laboratories.) it has been demonstrated that previously used fuel rods as well as all actinides (fissionable and fertile) can be used as fuel in many types of generation IV reactors.

      I feel it has been overwhelmingly proven by the companies of Areva and British Nuclear Fuels and by the governments of France, Britain, and Japan that recycling of nuclear fuel rods can be achieved in a safe manner. It should be mission number one of this committee to give validity to the fact there is no such thing as ‘nuclear waste’ if we are talking about actinides. All actinides regardless of their current isotopic depositions are in fact potential future energy sources for generation IV reactors.

      Once this commission acknowledges this fact it will be much easier to come up with an economical and politically viable solution for our nation nuclear by products. Since, we are now talking about future energy sources expensive and hard to get to geological repositories can be taken off the table. (The exception here being Yucca since we put 8 billion into it I am sure we can find some use for it.)

      However, the relatively inexpensive and safe option of multiple above ground dry cask nuclear storage areas can be seen in a new light if this committee can promote the fact that nuclear fuel rods are in fact future energy sources. The plan of above ground dry cast nuclear storage is advantageous for several reasons both economical and political.

      First, the idea of spending 8 billion dollars on a geological repository and then abandoning it once completed is something that above ground dry cask nuclear storage can easily overcome. Unlike Yucca above ground storage areas are cheap to build and maintain. If a powerful Senator does not like the above ground repository in his home state then we could easily move it to another location without wasting the billions we lost on the Yucca Mountain Repository.

      If a dry cask is wearing out then we go ahead and fix it in a safe but still relatively inexpensive manner. Thus through the method of continuous monitoring and other containment procedures we can with 100% certainty prevent any contamination breaches. It should, also, be noted that a dry cask holding nuclear fuel rods only emits 3mR of ionizing radiation on contact. This rate of radiation does not even require that the dry cask be placed in a federally mandated Radiation Area.

      If this commission can agree to first make a statement that clearly expresses the fact that nuclear fuel rods are not waste but sources future fuel then this commission can always say it took one of the first giant steeps that helped save our planet. This declaration will be an accomplishment that historians for millenniums to come will recognize.

      Viva the Nuclear Renaissance ©,


    2. edward lebel says:

      I'mtired and disabled for now must rest ,thank you for your understanding and help….ED

    3. edward lebel says:

      as I am 60 yrs yong, Growing up part time in th 1950′s, there were as I rember, clinics for health problems, for people with little or no money, to afford this extrafigance/? the health care insurance companies, put a stop to this free care ,if you neded it… the united states gives generously to ,many allies & other countries … lets take care of those of us at home,charity begins at home,lets protect our borders1′st I’m a us veteran, vietnam era, giving to my country is my privledge… stop the business from leaving our country, @blambing the american worker as they seem to make good profits at so called third world civilizations…lets

    4. Brian O'Connell says:

      This Blue Ribbon Commission is not equipped to trudge through the complex license application to weigh the technical merits of Yucca Mountain. That is best done by the NRC which has the statutory responsibility and professional staff resources to conduct that review. In the FY 2010 budget, DOE said that review should proceed, but in the FY 2011 budget, they reversed course and have asked the NRC to withdraw the license application. That leaves the waste where is for decades until a new storage/reprocessing/disposal strategy is not just chosen, but financed, licensed and implemented.

      Although the license application submitted by DOE contains over 8,000 pages, the same Department states in its motion to withdraw the application simply states that developing a repository at Yucca Mountain is "not a workable option" and that "scientific and engineering knowledge on issues relevant to disposition of high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel have advanced dramatically over the twenty years since the the Yucca Mountain project was initiated." That is open to debate, but the Nuclear Waste Policy Act remains the law of the land and the Congress approved Yucca Mountain as the site. So, changing the site is for Congress to decide (or for the NRC to deny the license.)

    5. Tim AZ says:

      So we don't go nuclear. There is good news we still have coal. Utah is using eminent domain to reclaim their coal and other natural resources that the Federal govt. attempted to steal from the American people. So we will stick with coal and oil. Most of the western states should follow Utah and reclaim their natural resources within the lands that were stolen from the people. These States could become very prosperous and avoid the third world status of California.

    6. Lester Luehring says:

      I guess its just a coincidence that NRC Chairman, Jaczco, used to be the science policy advisor to Harry Reid. We need to clean out this snakes nest of crooked politicians next election.

    7. Kenneth Jordan, PHX, says:

      $8 dollar gas is what the Socialists in DC want no matter what. they won't stop until we have a European economy. How long do we have to put up with this insanity?

    8. Ron Bourgoin says:

      I'm amused over the clamor that the decision to take Yucca Mountain off the table has no scientific basis, as if the decision to take Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington, and Deaf Smith County, Texas off the table in 1987 was based on science. Those of us old enough to remember what happened will remember that those two sites were to be scientifically studied right along with Yucca Mountain. Following the studies, the best of the three sites was to be selected for further site characterization. We further remember that all of a sudden in 1987, before the statutory studies were performed, the Hanford and Deaf Smith County sites were dropped from further consideration. I don't suppose there was much weight placed on the fact that one of the most powerful members of Congress was Tom Foley of Washington, and the Speaker of the House at the time was Jim Wright of Texas.

    9. Jay Dee Are, Columbi says:


      "By asking the committee not even to consider Yucca Mountain, the Administration is solidifying the criticism that it is basing its decision on politics rather than scientific or technical data."

      Well, yeah. Since 1987, Yucca Mountain has always been about politics, and from 1982 onward, the disposal of high-level nuclear waste was about politics as much as it was about science.

      Remember Ronald Reagan, the president between 1981 and 1989? In 1982, he signed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which called for evaluating five western sites for a first repository and directed DOE to search eastern and mid-western sites for a second repository.

      In 1985, Reagan's DOE secretary arbitrarily closed the second-repository program and reduced the number of western sites to three. The reason: politics. Closing the second-repository program protected GHW Bush from having to answer awkward questions from angry easterners and mid-westerners during the 1988 primaries.

      Jump ahead to 1987 and the Gramm-Rudman Act. Accompanying the Gramm-Rudman Act was the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, which whittled the number of candidate repository sites down to Yucca Mountain. The reason: more politics. Washington State and Texas didn't want nuclear waste in their back yards and they had more clout in Congress than Nevada did. Reagan signed the act into law with no fanfare.

      So, before you get too huffy about the current politics of nuclear waste, just remember that it's business as usual.

    10. foxmuldar says:

      Its no surprise to see Obama shutting down the Yucca facility. Obama is one big bullshitter. He say yes to Nuclear energy but does everything to stop it. Watch what he does with his announcment of offshore drilling. Don't expect to see any drilling while Obama is in office. But on the other hand, isn't shell oil owned by Hugo Chavez? Could it be that Shell is the only oil company to benefit from this ruling? Oh and by the way, Venezuela is about to run out of electricity. I don't hear anyone talking about that, but then since Venezuala is run by a socialist, the socialist media will never cover such a story.

    11. Yucca Insider, Las V says:

      People seem to be suggesting that the Deaf Smith and Hanford sites were not studied, in violation of the statute. First of all, I'd be curious to know which section of the statute (the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or NWPA) is being referring to; second, I'd be curious to learn everyone's definition of "studied," for the suggestion seems to be that the other two sites were not studied when clearly they were.

      People who focus on the alleged "political dimension" of this issue characteristically overlook inconvenient facts where the scientific and regulatory dimensions are concerned. Also, there is a serious and widespread misunderstanding of the difference between siting studies and so-called "site characterization."

      In fact, if you carefully read Section 112 of the NWPA, you'll see that it was designed to be flexible. The Secretary is instructed to first select five sites (which he did) for nomination for possible site characterization. Then he has to narrow the field down to three sites (which he did). However, nowhere does the NWPA mandate that three sites be treated to a full site characterization; all that is required is a detailed environmental assessment and other standard reports. These documents were in fact prepared, and they are to be distinguished from the full-blown Site Characterization report that was prepared for Yucca Mountain.

      So, however much someone might want to believe that politics was the only factor, the truth is that scientific studies were performed for all of the nominated sites.

      In fact, if you look at the set of siting studies produced starting in the late 1970s, long before the NWPA was drafted, you will quickly discover that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had a lot more to do with the choice of Yucca Mountain than any politician did. The USGS was promoting a repository in an unsaturated zone as early as 1974 (and this siting scheme was based on studies of Yucca). In fact, USGS Director McKelvey endorsed the Yucca site in 1976. Then, in 1982, the USGS sent a report to DOE indicating that the consensus view was that the unsaturated zone at Yucca Mountain would be an excellent choice for a repository. This was months before the NWPA even became law, mind you.

      So, if the fix was in, it was in large part because the USGS had long established its preference, mainly on the basis of the considerable study that had already been performed on the Yucca Mountain site starting in 1970, as well as its unsaturated zone configuration, its remoteness, its water table that dead ends in Death Valley, and its situation on land controlled by the government and already more or less irradiated (the Nevada Test Site, where the U.S. detonated nearly 1,000 atomic weapons).

    12. gonzedo TX says:


      Department Of Energy (DOE) Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu is, and has been, asleep at the switch since his appointment. He has truly turned out a Dis-Appointment, and should be replaced as soon as possible(ASAP) as DOE Secretary.

      His apparent laissez-faire management prompted Pres. Obama last Feb 2010 to Direct Dr. Chu to appoint a 15 member commission to seek solution to Nuclear waste disposal, as well as the best technology to generate energy. The way The White House Directive was worded implied the need to seek nuclear waste disposal, and better energy sources (such as Thorium U232), that could be the potential answer to both waste disposal, and power generation, while eliminating Nuclear Weapons Grade Uranium creation. WHAT PRES. OBAMA ASKED FOR, IS NOT WHAT HE GOT. This alone should have raised eyebrows, but so far, no comment from the White House either.

      Secretary Chu proceeded to appoint a 15 member Blue Ribbon Commission answerable directly to him, or his designees; Further the Commission's charter shows a tightly supervised Commission which may only meet twice a year, and then for a couple of days. He also appointed several "Deputy Dogs" to look only in the direction he seeks, and no other: TO PROMOTE THE INTERESTS OF THE URANIUM NUCLEAR CARTEL in the U.S., and by ente, the interests of foreign countries which seek to monopolize our nuclear generating industry with patented technology and even Uranium fuel rods. GE Hitachi, and GE Toshiba have recently consorted to manipulate the world’s uranium Nuke industry. Note that Secretary Chu has promoted the issuance of a much greater (by several Billion U.S. Dollars) of Loan Guarantees to U.S. Nuke Planners. Secretary Chu seems financially interested in this industry, and no other. A good indicator for those looking for corruption in High, High Places.

      The White House Memo specifically requested: “This review should include an evaluation of advanced fuel cycle technologies that would optimize energy recovery, resource utilization, and the minimization of materials derived from nuclear activities in a manner consistent with U.S. nonproliferation goals (THIS BESPEAKS : LOOK INTO THORIUM TECHNOLOGY)…The Commission's business should be conducted in an open and transparent manner.” Well… The Commission met on 25 and 26 Mar 2010; yet nothing has been reported about its deliberations, or even when the next meeting will be held

      Some of us had placed a high expectation on the White House Directive to DOE, But it seems Dr. Steven Chu does not seem to get the message, or worse yet, seeks to ignore it. JUST ASK THE MEMBERS OF THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION – A colossal waste of time for our country; at a time when we can least afford it. Dr Steven Chu needs to be replaced as DOE Secretary – ASAP


    13. James Green, Albuq., says:

      Mr. Witt: Great article and it just proves that such a Great project for containment, billions later, and some geologist hooked up with sen. jerkoff Reid, has curtailed the effort. As the lead architect in 1989, for this project, I understood with all the investigations, that this location was a very safe place. The 'tuff' material that the enclosure or cave, being excavated is where a drop of water travels 10 feet within a 100 years. No seimic acitvity to speak of, since its in an ancient caledra. So the ? is what reason does chu and 'O' have for the discontinuance? Would they prefer to have a rocket hit one of the ponds next to a existing power plant. Do not want to give anybody any ideas, but…..

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