Liddick: Noodling on nukes
I saw $11 billion of your money in the trash the other day. And a guy that looked a lot like the president was throwing a bunch more in on top of it.
The big box of bucks was marked “Yucca Mountain.” For those not up on things nuclear, that’s the name of the site chosen for the National Nuclear Waste Repository way back in 1987. We’ve been funding research and construction there – a rather bleak spot in the Nevada’s basin-and-range complex about 90 miles north of Las Vegas – since then. It was supposed to go on-line in 1998, but politics and technical complications stretched the timeline, keeping our nuclear waste in storage ponds scattered around the country. The place was about ready to open for business last year when “hope and change” intervened.
President Obama, as he has done elsewhere, embraced two different and contradictory goals regarding nuclear energy. On the one hand, he said that this clean, efficient supplier of baseload electricity must have a place in the Brave New World of non-carbon-emitting energy sources. On the other, he embraced Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s position on the National Waste Repository: “Not in my backyard.”
Want to know why the rest of the world thinks America, collectively, has the brains of a newt? Consider this: Yucca Mountain is a remote, dry and very stable place. According to the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, the last significant earthquake in the entire range was about a 6.5, and occurred more than 50,000 years ago. By comparison, new buildings in California are designed to withstand a 7.0 earthquake with no significant damage; the Yucca Mountain facility is considerably sturdier. So with the type of cask storage planned there, the chances of contamination of air, soil or groundwater is nil even if a similar earthquake were to occur the day after storage began. Access to the site is limited both by its rather remote location and by internal and external security. Anything put there is going to stay put.
Previous administrations, Democrat and Republican, had such confidence in the place that they signed disposal contracts with a number of nuclear power producers. Non-performance clauses in these contracts have already cost you about $60 million, with an additional $11-20 billion to come. Yes, changing one’s mind can be expensive, but hey…the president isn’t on the hook for it – you are.
And there is the irony that instead of being 1,000 feet beneath a mountain in the middle of a desert 90 miles from the nearest population center, our spent nuclear fuel is going to remain in 121 above-ground pools scattered across 104 sites within 75 miles of more than 161 million Americans in 39 states. Yes, I’m sure that’s both safer and more secure.
Then there’s the other effect of Sen. Reid’s NIMBYism: As nuclear facilities approach re-certification, spent fuel storage will be a consideration. We risk losing a significant portion of the 20 percent of electricity produced by nuclear power plants in this country. That also poses a challenge for the 19 new plants planned to address the 25 percent rise in our demand for electricity projected through 2030. Which seems to be OK with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who has voiced a preference for much higher energy costs.
The administration does have a proposal to solve the problem of nuclear waste. It’s called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), and would create a “community of countries” to share nuclear power technology and to store all the high-level waste from the entire group after volume reduction from reprocessing. This would play to the strengths the Obama Administration has shown when faced by crisis: discuss, dither, delay, deflect responsibility and above all, turn the situation into an opportunity for speechifying. Have a meeting, or even better, a summit. Collect accolades for “leadership.” Meanwhile, the possibilities of real solutions continue to be eroded by the tick-tock of time.
So who wins, who loses, here? The biggest winners are obviously the anti-nuke Energy Utopians, who believe our future energy needs will be supplied by “renewables” like wind and solar – as long as migratory birds are not interfered with by wind turbines and the horned lizard’s Mohave Desert environment is undisturbed by solar farms. Harry Reid, who finally succeeded in his campaign to tell the rest of the country to go fish, also gets a boost – which might keep Nevada in the “Blue” column next November. Part of the calculation? Nah. I’m sure the president had everyone’s best interests at heart.
Who loses? You. Not only will your tax dollars continue to fund a completed facility we don’t use, and to compensate for contracts broken on a whim, you’re going to pay a lot more for electricity in the future.
But that’s “change,” isn’t it?
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