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The San Diego Alternative Energy Meetup Group Message Board Nuclear & Advanced Science › Yucca Mountain Nuclear Storage

Yucca Mountain Nuclear Storage

A former member
Post #: 148
This is "upstream" from San Diego. Sounds like need something better that putting nuke fuel in metal cannisters in a porous, limestone cave. I hope new nuclear technology like "Pebble bed" (which encases uranium in very stable graphite nodules) emerges.

Tunnel as tomb for radioactive waste hits wall

Next 18 months key in nuclear energy debate centered on Nev. site
By Dana Wilkie

Associated Press
SD Union Tribune
June 3, 2007

YUCCA MOUNTAIN, Nev. ? From the 4,950-foot crest of Yucca Mountain, the valley below is a spectacular sweep of desert landscape ? ringed by the Funeral and Chocolate mountain ranges, colored by blue-gray sage and pocked by red-and-black cones that represent the area's last gasps of volcanic activity.

A worker drove a train out of a 5-mile tunnel carved through Nevada's Yucca Mountain in this
Standing here, it's difficult to believe that 400 yards below one's feet lies a 5-mile tunnel carved out of the mountain's limestone ? a tunnel that may one day hold the nation's spent nuclear fuel and is crucial to President Bush's plan to diversify the country's energy portfolio and address the international clamor to fight global warming.

What happens with this cavelike corridor in the coming 18 months could, in the view of some, determine whether nuclear energy will blossom as an alternative to carbon-based electricity generation, or whether the decades-long effort to build a burial spot for high-level radioactive waste at the Yucca Mountain Project will sputter and perhaps die.

?Opening Yucca Mountain is regarded as very important by the U.S. nuclear industry to its renaissance,? said Allison Macfarlane, a George Mason University expert on Yucca. ?Each time they (in the federal government) say they need more time, I think the overall impression is that the repository is that much further in trouble.?


The Yucca project is two decades behind schedule, utilities have sued the federal government to take the waste off their hands, and the Bush administration is seeking electricity sources that aren't culprits in global warming. The U.S. Department of Energy is scrambling to prepare a license application for Yucca, which it hopes to give the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission next summer.

After that, the decision whether to proceed with Yucca's construction will lie with five regulators largely sympathetic to Bush's plan for a resurgence of nuclear power, which depends on a place to store highly radioactive byproducts that could remain dangerous for many thousands of years.

If the department can't submit the license application by next summer, there are fears that the Yucca repository could suffer a fatal blow.

?They're very concerned about actually getting this application done in time for 2008,? said Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who vows to kill the Yucca project. ?If they don't get it done by 2008, the project may not happen.?

Macfarlane isn't convinced the project would die, but she agrees that more delays won't be good news for utilities banking on Yucca's opening as they prepare to build 27 reactor units.

?Limited storage capacity, the federal government's legal obligation to take possession of used fuel, and the need to dispose of high-level defense waste require a deep geologic repository at some point in the future,? said Trish Conrad, spokeswoman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's main trade group.

Below one's feet lies the tunnel, hewn by the ?Yucca Mucker,? a 720-ton, cylinder-shaped contraption that cuts rock at a rate of 18 feet per hour. It took the Yucca Mucker from summer 1994 to spring 1997 to carve the tunnel, whose innards are now reinforced by steel rails.

Although the dump's projected 2017 opening date is already two decades behind schedule, activity at Yucca is in a lull ? thanks to a recent $50 million funding cut engineered by Reid. A work force of 180 has been slashed by two-thirds as the Energy Department funnels resources into preparing the license application.

During the decade since the tunnel was carved, engineers have been conducting tests to ascertain how long steel-packaged nuclear fuel can safely remain in the 2,000 acres of burial space that would lie along 42 fingerlike extensions off this tunnel. For instance, to simulate the heat generated by spent fuel ? which resembles a bunch of hard, black marbles ? engineers have subjected the couch-length steel canisters to 400-degree temperatures, hot enough to cook a turkey.

?This is not liquid oozing from barrels,? said Michael Voegele, once Yucca's senior engineer and now an Energy Department consultant. ?It's metals, ceramics and plastics, not green goop.?

While some in the scientific community believe the steel containers may last a couple of thousand years, Bob Loux ? director of the Nevada Agency on Nuclear Projects ? thinks the standard should be hundreds of thousands of years, as some radioactive elements can remain dangerous that long.

?We don't believe any metal will last longer than 500 years underground at Yucca Mountain,? Loux said.

In cool, cavelike alcoves branching off the tunnel, engineers have drilled holes in the rock walls and installed a drip system to study how water moves through the mountain. They've imagined that about 8½ miles away lives a ?reasonably maximally exposed individual? ? someone who draws all drinking, cooking and bathing water from a desert well. They calculate how long it might take for radionuclides ? atoms with unstable nuclei ? to escape their steel canisters, migrate through Yucca's rock, find their way to groundwater and move to where this hypothetical person lives.

These tests demonstrate that radionuclides could show up in drinking water in 50 years or less, and that water in the rocks contains lead, arsenic, mercury and other substances that might eat away at canisters, Loux said.

Allen Benson, spokesman for the Yucca Mountain Project, said the tests show that the earliest that radionuclides might get into groundwater is 50 years, but that the latest is 600,000 years. In fact, he said, neither extreme is probable, and it's more likely that radionuclides would migrate to groundwater after several thousand years. Even then, the Energy Department goal is to ensure that radioactivity is so diluted it poses no human or environmental danger.

?(Loux's) position is that absolutely no radionuclides can ever be released from the repository,? said Benson, noting that it's not unusual for water to contain trace amounts of lead, arsenic or mercury. ?All (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) regulations dealing with pollutants recognize that it is impossible to guarantee that no pollutants will ever be released from any disposal facility.?
A former member
Post #: 7
I don't think they'll have any trouble getting the go ahead at Yucca Mountain. The American mind works on the assumption things will always be better in the future. So the Bush sympathetic regulators will go ahead with Yucca Mountain. They don't care it will start leaking badly in probably 100 years and continue to pollute the water supplies for much of this country for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps this is a slightly better solution than the other countries which take the waste and dump it into the ocean. Either way we are certainly not being responsible.

Monopolies are the real problem here. Energy companies want to monopolize energy production. We need to avoid both Nuclear and Fossil fuels and go with wind and solar. Aluminum for hydrogen also looks incredibly promising. Perhaps it's just getting the word out that we don't need centralized power. With photovoltaic cells that are now painted on irregular surfaces and wind maps showing America has more than enough wind power for this century why are we looking at fossil and nuclear options?

Only because the politicians are driven by the money they get from the energy monopolies.
user 3419483
Lakeside, CA
Post #: 1
I don't think it is fair to say this is a Bush issue - I consider myself a common-sense environmentalist - not a wacko that will stop every road from being created because it may disturb the sleeping crawling-thingys that may or may not be there - but since the late 70's when I was in high school, I have been against nuclear power (to the consternation of my teachers) because we don't know what will do with the nuclear garbage, and can not ensure it will be safe in man-made disasters, or natural disasters.
Mark C.
Carlsbad, CA
Post #: 4
With so many other options, our government needs to work away from nuclear, and towards other green technologies that don't harm the environment. In the past 10 years alone there have been 12 major nuclear leakages into our water supply. Its not a safe future option. As far as getting rid of nuclear waste today, there are companies using plasma technology to get rid of municipal waste like http://www.geoplasma....­ and that is only a step away from treating nuclear waste.
A former member
Post #: 3
Maybe we could make a deal with Mexico. We trade an equal weight in spent nuclear materials for every immigrant?

Maybe we could also use the nuc energy to reduce population growth? Thinner containers and all.

Just not near the New river which flows north.

Isn't that what borders are for? Separate US from Them?

A former member
Post #: 8
With so many other options, our government needs to work away from nuclear, and towards other green technologies that don't harm the environment. In the past 10 years alone there have been 12 major nuclear leakages into our water supply. Its not a safe future option. As far as getting rid of nuclear waste today, there are companies using plasma technology to get rid of municipal waste like http://www.geoplasma....­ and that is only a step away from treating nuclear waste.

It would be good to repackage the material in a form that doesn't bleed into our water as easily. Still it doesn't remove the radioactivity. And what about the fumes that are produced as the material is torched and condensed? It is my understanding they are just as radioactive as the material that would be left behind.

Actually there's no reason to go down this nuclear path. We have wind. We have solar. We have hydrogen as a carrier. All the technology is there...
user 4221888
San Diego, CA
Post #: 11
In response to Mark Crouse,

I agree with Dave that torching the nuclear waste is not an option for getting rid of it. I looked at the geoplasma website and they are using a very high temperature process to produce useful fuel energy from household trash. This is a chemical process.

The radioactive nature of nuclear waste is a phenomenon originating in the nucleus of the atoms. On the other hand, all chemical processes (including burning trash) are caused by interactions between electrons which are present in the outer boundaries of atoms.

If you burn a radioactive material, it's still radioactive and it has probably changed into a gas or a tiny gas-borne particle, becoming a much greater health hazard than a solid chunk of the same material.

It's too bad that fusion energy research doesn't receive much funding. In my opinion, it has great potential and produces far, far less (and in some cases, zero) radioactivity. I think it is a much better option when compared with the type of nuclear energy that is available today. Fusion still needs a lot of research, though, before it will be available as an energy source.

The following essentially restates what you've probably already read, adding in my opinions:

Definitely, better waste storage materials should be found for Yucca Mountain. 500 years is a long time for a man-made waste container to last, but not long enough considering some radioactive materials remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years or more.

Also, the analysis being done on leaching of waste from Yucca Mountain into local water supplies considered a person living 8.5 miles away and relying completely on water drawn from a well on their property. If it took ~5000 years for this to occur 8.5 miles from the storage facility, I'm not too worried about radioactivity leaking and being much of a problem in the future. My idea for the solution to radioactive materials leaching into groundwater? For the people living in the vicinity (~50 miles) of the storage site, periodically check the groundwater to see if it contains abnormal levels of dangerous radioactive elements, and if so, ship in water from further away instead of using the local supply.
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