Sunday, June 12, 2005

LA Times On Nuclear Waste Storage

The Saturday edition of the Los Angeles Times had an extensive article about nuclear waste storage, namely, that it's not really being done in a planned manner:
Along the headwaters of the Illinois River, engineers at the Dresden nuclear power station have erected two dozen steel and concrete silos that rise 20 feet above the Midwest plain.

The gray structures are unremarkable except for what is loaded inside: Each contains roughly 13 tons of high-level nuclear waste that has been accumulating at the plant since the Eisenhower administration. With nowhere to go, the waste will most likely remain in place for decades.

Dresden's reactors have produced one of the largest stockpiles — 1,347 tons — of civilian nuclear waste in the nation. With the plant churning out nearly 48 tons more waste each year, engineers are preparing to double the size of the outdoor storage pad this summer.

The plant has the same problem as nearly all of the nation's 103 commercial reactors: They were never designed to store waste long-term and are now forced to deal with large quantities of spent uranium fuel rods that produce high levels of radiation.

The problem reflects decades of miscalculations and missteps by the federal government, which promised at the dawn of the nuclear age to accept ownership of the waste. The plan to build a waste repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert has faced so many political, legal and technical problems that it's impossible to project when — or even if — it will be built.

The problems with nuclear waste storage are well-known, but political forces have prevented storage facilities from being built. From what I can tell, the Yucca Mountain facility looks like a good solution if it were larger, but NIMBYism prevents its completion. According to the article, Yucca Mountain as proposed is insufficient, and will only slow the outside storage of nuclear waste.