Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Saga Continues . . .

Twelve years ago to the month, my wife and I stood in a long line at the classic Uptown Theater in northwest Washington, D.C. to see the much-anticipated Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.  Whatever your view is of that movie, Jar Jar Binks, or the science fiction genre in general, for me The Phantom Menace evoked a very particular response.  Having come to film as a child largely on repeated viewings of the VHS copy of the original Star Wars my father had made for me when it aired on network television -- the commercials almost, but not quite, perfectly cut out by the pause button -- The Phantom Menace left me awestruck by its effects, struggling with its disconnection from the original trilogy, and certain of only one thing: there would be more.

If anything was clear at the end The Phantom Menace, it was that there would be another installment of the Star Wars enterprise.  The story would go on.  The saga would continue.

Those who have been following the story of high-level nuclear waste in the United States must be feeling the same thing this week, as yet another installment of the saga that is Yucca Mountain was revealed.  While Congress is investigating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's delay in issuing a final decision on the Department of Energy's withdrawal of its permit application for Yucca, this week the Government Accountability Office released a report examining what motivated DOE's decision to withdraw its application in the first place.  The GAO report is critical enough of the DOE that it is accompanied by a 14-page letter from the Department asserting, in part, that "some" of the GAO's "conclusions are based upon misapprehensions of fact."

A few highlights from the GAO report:

  • "DOE’s decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons."

  • "After decades of effort and nearly $15 billion in spending, DOE succeeded in submitting a license application for a nuclear waste repository. However, since then, DOE has dismantled its repository effort at Yucca Mountain and has taken steps that make the shutdown difficult to reverse."

  • "DOE undertook an ambitious set of steps to dismantle the Yucca Mountain repository program. However, concerns have been raised about DOE’s expedited procedures for disposing of property from the program . . .  In addition, DOE did not consistently follow federal policy and guidance for planning or assessing risks of the shutdown. Some of these steps to dismantle the program will likely hinder progress if the license application review process resumes—should NRC or the courts require it."

  • "[There are] two broad lessons for developing a future waste management strategy. First, social and political opposition to a permanent repository, not technical issues, is the key obstacle. Important tools for overcoming such opposition include transparency, economic incentives, and education. Second, it is important that a waste management strategy have consistent policy, funding, and leadership, especially since the process will likely take decades."

Further media reports on the GAO study are available here, here, and here.

-Lincoln Davies

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2011/05/the-saga-continues-.html

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Comments

There are significant technical issues involved with the Yucca Mountain repository. These include earthquakes(a DOE building was damaged by an earthquake -one explanation was that federal standards were used in constructing the building. The next question should be Why were Nevada standards not used since Yucca Mountain is located in Nevada?). There is evidence of volcanism onsite- I took a tour of the Yucca Mountain repository and saw a volcanic crater from the top of Yucca Mountain. It erupted about 80,000 years ago. The presence of Chlorine 36 inside the repository shows that the repository leaks. Chlorine-36 was produced in nuclear weapons tests 50 years ago. There are conflicting opinions about whether the repository should be located below or above the water table. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recommended placing it below, in a reducing environment.The present plan is to place it above the water table. Nevertheless, I feel that a second look should be taken to see if these problems are serious enough to close down Yucca Mountain. Susanne E. Vandenbosch, M.Sc., Ph.D.

Posted by: Susanne E. Vandenbosch | May 14, 2011 3:46:43 PM

I find this article very informative. Thanks for posting. Keep it up!

Posted by: plumbing | May 13, 2011 2:30:42 AM

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