Yucca Mountain ‘full’ even before it accepts any nuclear waste

| 12/12/2008

The repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is technically “full” even before any nuclear waste is shipped there to be stored.

The amount of spent nuclear fuel currently stored at other sites will soon exceed the capacity limit of 70,000 metric tons at Yucca Mountain, according to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

“Unless Congress raises or eliminates the current statutory capacity limit of 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal, a second repository will be needed,” Bodman stated in a report to Congress issued Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Bodman said the capacity at Yucca Mountain could someday be expanded to accommodate three times the amount of fuel allowed under what he calls an “arbitrary cap.”

If and when spent nuclear fuel is shipped to Yucca Mountain, it will be by trucks and railways.

In 2002, President Bush signed legislation into law to make Yucca Mountain the nation’s primary repository for spent nuclear fuel. Red tape, public protests, lawsuits and transportation issues continue to draw out the process of opening the Yucca Mountain facility.

Should the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant extensions to the operating life of commercial nuclear reactors to 60 years or so, the plants could produce as much as 130,000 metric tons of heavy metals, Energy Department officials stated.

In a second report to Congress issued Tuesday, Ward Sproat, director of the Energy Department Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, stated that spent nuclear fuel currently stored at decommissioned nuclear reactor sites around the U.S. will not be moved anytime soon.

“The Department has concluded that, without legislation, a demonstration project accepting spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned nuclear reactor sites could not be completed in the near term and would not reduce taxpayer costs for waste disposal,” Sproat stated.

– By David Tanner, staff writer