nuclear waste


Requiem for Yucca Mountain: Federal Commission Says to Move On

The problem of where to put nuclear waste goes back to the drawing board

Dead End? The giant boring machine pokes through a rock face at Yucca Mountain.

In its final report, a federal blue-ribbon commission suggests that it may be time to throw in the towel on Yucca Mountain, the embattled project to store high-level nuclear waste in Nevada. Billions have already been spent on the project, which appears to have reached a dead end.

But the urgency to find a safe, permanent home for nuclear waste in the U.S. was tragically underscored last March by the destruction of three Japanese reactors and their storage pools of spent fuel rods, after an ocean tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima plant’s coastal defenses. Continue reading

Yes, In Our Backyard

After more than a decade with a nuclear waste dump next door, the sky has not fallen on Carlsbad

Okay, so Yucca Mountain hasn’t worked out so well. In fact, the current betting is that the planned Nevada repository for nuclear waste will never open its doors. No matter. New Mexico beckons.

A transport container for nuclear waste, outside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Few Americans seem to realize that the world’s only functioning geologic repository for nuclear waste of any kind is already open for business in the southeastern corner of New Mexico. In fact, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is well beyond the “pilot” phase. It’s been taking in truckloads of the stuff since 1999, without mishap, it’s success no doubt a factor in its anonymity.

An average of 30 truckloads a week from all corners of the US, roll into what is essentially a glorified salt mine, licensed by the federal government to accept low-level “transuranic” waste from defense-related facilities only. Continue reading

Sweden Tries Taming its “Fox”

Making strides toward nuclear waste disposal by empowering communities

The Forsmark nuclear power plant is one of three in Sweden where about half the nation's electricity comes from 10 reactors built on the coast.

Sweden gets a lot of press as the country that’s figured out not only how and where to dispose of its nuclear waste but – significantly — how to win community support.
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California’s Nuclear Burden

Nearly 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel have accumulated at nuclear power plants in California…with nowhere to take it.

"Dry casks" waiting to be loaded with spent fuel at Diablo Canyon. (Photo: Craig Miller)

It could be worse. This could be Illinois, the undisputed spent fuel champ, with more than 8,000 tons piled up at plants. As it is, California ranks eighth in the nation.

“This country has an obligation to those states and those communities to take those materials and put them into deep geologic disposal, where they can be safely isolated for a very long period of time,” says Per Peterson, who chairs the nuclear engineering department at UC Berkeley.

Trouble is, the country seems farther now from meeting that obligation than it was in 1998, the original legislative deadline for opening a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel. Continue reading

Sweden’s Holding Tank For Nuclear Waste

This is the third in a series of dispatches from Sweden, where Ingrid Becker is touring facilities for storage of nuclear waste. These posts preview an upcoming radio series on The California Report.

The panel advising President Obama is recommending the United States “proceed expeditiously” to establish one or more consolidated “interim” sites for storing high-level nuclear waste. Expeditious isn’t a word often associated with the U.S. Department of Energy’s troubled waste siting program. And, commissioners didn’t say where they would suggest putting the spent fuel, but Yucca Mountain certainly wasn’t mentioned in the series of draft reports from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. What the commissioners did recommend is that a new organization –independent of the Department of Energy — be formed to develop a waste disposal program.  The idea didn’t set well with some House Republicans. Continue reading

Sweden’s Nuclear Waste Solution

In the weeks to come, Climate Watch will launch a three-part radio series on the nuclear waste dilemma. As part of the reporting for that series, The California Report’s senior producer, Ingrid Becker, traveled to Sweden to examine a program touted as a potential model for the world. This dispatch from Becker is a preview of the series.

How Sweden is getting some to say, “Yes, in my backyard,” Part 1

The country that brought the world Alfred Nobel and his dynamite, Volvo cars and IKEA furniture is busy touting another invention.  The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, or SKB, has asked for government permission to build what could become one of the world’s first permanent geologic repositories for spent nuclear fuel.

SKB public relations officer Brita Freudenthal encourages visitors to touch models of the copper canisters at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory, where plans are being developed for permanent storage of nuclear waste. (Photo: Ingrid Becker)

I’m in Sweden this month to learn just what this environmentally-conscious nation of nine million people can teach us about managing the radioactive refuse from commercial reactors. While the waste from California’s two nuclear power plants — Diablo Canyon and San Onofre – is piling up in temporary storage containers (with still more at the decommissioned Rancho Seco plant, near Lodi), Sweden is moving forward with a program 30 years in the making, to safely dispose of the spent uranium dioxide pellets that fuel its ten reactors

”I believe it has been a strength that industry has had a clear task to solve the (waste) problem,” says SKB’s Chief Executive Officer Claes Thegerström, in a recent interview for the company website. “When we began, we had right from the beginning a mix of experienced people from the industry. We had outgoing academics and, strong authorities, which allowed us – in contrast to the American way – to own the mission.”

This week I’m in Stockholm where we’ll hear more about the Swedish example during a two-day gathering of social scientists, legal scholars, and industry experts, as well as political and community leaders from Sweden and abroad. Continue reading