Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No need to rush into a decision about nuclear waste disposal?

Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy technology that emits and retains waste?  This high-level radioactive waste is contained in spent reactor fuel rods and must be contained for long periods of time.

Fifty-three years ago the Eisenhower administration realized that storage and disposal of nuclear wastes were serious problems.  The administration sought the assistance of the National Academy of Science to formulate an ideal plan.  A committee of prominent scientists was formed, who eventually recommended deep underground geological storage as the best and safest method.  This method of  storage required development of a large cavern where the material could be safely contained for thousands of years until it lost its radioactivity.      

In 1957 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was instructed to identify the most suitable storage site for the deposit of the nuclear waste.    Prior to commencing the search the USGS requested input from a large number of geoscience professionals.  Over one hundred locations were suggested, most in the western part of the country.   Each site was reviewed, from which a short list was prepared.   By 1984, on completion of extensive geological evaluations, only ten sites in six states remained.  Lastly, these ten sites were subjected to still further scientific analyses.  On completion of the studies, the number of preferred sites was cut to three - Hanford, Washington, Deaf Smith County, Texas and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.    

In 1987 Congress instructed the Department of Energy (DOE) to direct its attention to the USGS chosen site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  It was found to be suitable in every respect for a disposal site, plus being located on Federal land.  The DOE conducted some additional research, then commenced development of the site so it would be ready to accept waste by January 31, 1998.

Only 41 years had passed since the USGS was directed to locate and evaluate a suitable storage site.   Forty-one years that saw a growing inventory of spent rods at reactor sites, as well as spent fuel from U.S. Navy warships. Temporary storage was filling up, reaching capacity, in spite of the overwhelming positive evidence favoring development of the Yucca Mountain site.  

REAL SCIENCE is undermined and discredited by political scientists.  Senator John Kerry, during the Presidential campaign of 2004, stated he would abandon plans for Yucca Mountain if elected to the White House.  What are his credentials for making such a decision?  In 2006 after eight years of political ‘tap dancing’, the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works finally issued a 25-page white paper entitled – ‘Yucca Mountain:  The most Studied Real Estate on the Planet’.  Thank you Senator Inhofe (OK). This very positive engineering and scientific report fell on deaf ears.  A whole new series of delays ensued - legal challenges, concerns over transport of the waste to the site.

“Don’t put it in my backyard, put it someone else’s”.   Senators John Ensign and Harry Reid leaped into the fray using a bucketful of implausible unimaginable reasons to detract from scientific conclusions.  I am still shocked by Senator Ensign’s take on the project. He knows better.  As a veterinarian he has a good background in science.  Senator Reid, an advocator of junk science, stated – “Yucca Mountain has been plagued by quality assurance problems for years”. Senator Reid’s brilliant scientific pronouncement was made after a series of supposedly incriminating e-mails between several hydrologists was uncovered.  The e-mails concerned failure to record a few correct equipment serial numbers, installation dates of some computer programs, and the names of the persons who installed them.  These omissions are of no consequence and have nothing to do with any scientific data or results.  However, a group of inept politicians fanned it into a firestorm.  Bureaucrats in the DOE reacted in panic. Politicians rushed to get in the limelight by holding public hearings in which REAL scientists were figuratively burned at the stake.  None of the so-called misrepresentations of scientific results were proven, but the damage was done.    

Questions beyond the Accusers!  The water table in the Mojave Desert is a closed groundwater system.   What possible correlation did wrong names of the program installers, wrong program installation dates, or incorrect equipment serial numbers have to do with the hydrological evaluation of the water table?  Can the small amount of rainfall in the desert - 7.0-7.5 inches per year be affected?   Will the amount of moisture that evaporates before and after the rain hits the sand or soil be affected?  What about the amount of moisture that remains after its migration through the 2,000 feet of rocks to reach the water table?  It is NONSENSE to believe that such a tiny amount of water infiltration will have the capacity to do any damage to waste disposal capsules stored in a deep underground cavern, nor will it contaminate the ground water.  

Ignorance compounded by stupidity.  Following the mid-term Congressional elections of 2006 the new Senate Majority Leader, Nevada Senator Harry Reid, declared, “Yucca Mountain is dead.  It’ll never happen”.  Reid was right, the 2008 Omnibus Spending Bill cut funding to the Yucca Mountain Project by $390 million. Two years later in 2008 a third high ranking politician joined the Political Science Prevaricators in the person of Barack Obama.  One of Obama’s many pre-election promises included abandonment of the Yucca Mountain project.  It has happened - the 2011 Budget de-funds the project. Again political science and political chicanery have championed over REAL SCIENCE.  If the waste is not put it in anyone’s back yard will the problem be solved?   I guess we could send it to Iran for disposal!

On June 28, 2011 a wildfire raged in New Mexico not far from the Los Alamos proving grounds.  Now, comes the latest proof of political chicanery.   At Los Alamos, there is an area in which nuclear wastes are stored in dry casks.   Could these casks withstand a roaring wildfire?  Is there a possibility that such a fire could damage, destroy, penetrate these casks?  If so, would radioactivity be vented to the atmosphere in large quantities?  Where would prevailing winds distribute the radioactivity?   Last question - do you believe that the Yucca Mountain site is a safe secure storage site for nuclear waste?

Coming attractions: 
  • Description of deep geological storage at Yucca Mountain.
  • Dollars squandered by rattlebrained politicians on Yucca Mountain.   

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