Thursday, March 27, 2008

Angry About Our Failure To Reprocess Spent Nuclear Fuel

PRESIDENT'S CORNER. By Norris McDonald. For some unknown reason I woke up angry this morning about how our country seems to have gone soft on building state-of-the-art infrastructure. Even the Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and we do not have a replacement. But that is not the source of my frustration and anger. My anger originates from our country's slow pace of building new nuclear power plants, snail-like pace in licensing and opening Yucca Mountain and our country's refusal to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. France reprocesses its spent nuclear fuel. I visited their state-of-the-art facility late last year (see photo below). Well later with anger; something must be done and we have been doing it through the Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition (NFR Coalition). I am the Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of the coalition.

La Hague Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Facility - Normandy, France

Standing feet above reprocessed nuclear fuel (I'm in the middle)

[Rest of tour party not members of NFR Coalition]

The Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition was established in 2004 to promote the construction and operation of nuclear fuels reprocessing facilities. NFR promotes reprocessing commercial spent nuclear fuel that is generated by commercial nuclear power plants. Reprocessing dramatically reduces the amount of high-level radioactive waste that would have to be stored in a geologic repository. We also support reprocessing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads into fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants.

The NFR Coalition is working to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 with the Nuclear Waste Management Agency Act of 2008 to establish the United States Nuclear Waste Management Agency to manage all Federal and civilian spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste management programs currently under the control of the United States Department of Energy; to establish and operate low-level radioactive waste receipt, supplementary segregation, treatment and burial or monitored/retrievable storage facilities on a fee basis; and to promote spent nuclear fuel reprocessing as a viable technology to aid in achieving and maintaining our national security and National Energy Policy goals, and for its potential to significantly reduce the total volume of radioactive waste designated for disposal in a Federal geologic repository.

The importance of our proposal is clearly illustrated by recent events. In 2007 the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to disapprove the Goshute Private Fuels Storage LLC (PFS) lease and the use of public lands for an Intermodal Transfer Facility (ITF) in Utah. The ITF would have been a temporary facility to store spent nuclear fuel rods. The DOI was jointly sued by PFS (a consortium of eight electric utility companies) and the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians in the federal court. Utilities are also suing over the delay in opening Yucca Mountain.

The U.S. Court of Claims decided in favor of Xcel Energy (formerly Northern States Power) for the sum of $116.5 million in Xcel's lawsuit against the Department of Energy over the federal government's failure to open the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility on time. Northern States Power originally filed the suit in 1998. DOE failed to provide suitable off-site commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF) disposal to the commercial nuclear utilities per the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987; yet to date, over $30 billion dollars (including interest) has been paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund by the electric utility ratepayers.

Unfortunately, the projected date for completion of the geologic repository by the DOE to begin emplacement of SNF has recently been revised from 2010 to a new projected date of 2017, while the original Congressionally mandated date for having a geologic repository available was 1998. A fee of 1/10th of one cent (one mil) per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by each nuclear power plant is paid into the fund. All settlements against the DOE are paid by the Judgement Fund, which is funded by our tax dollars. Understand why I am angry?

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