To consider nuclear power as a solution to climate change one must confront the legacy of high-level radioactive waste that is building up at power plants across the U.S. and Canada. This week the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed yet again how difficult it will be for regulators to bury the high-level waste problem while ensuring that waste remains safe for millenia to come.
The Review-Journal’s story on developments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s planned waste repositor at Yucca Mountain, Nevada — “Yucca fault line might spring surprise” — reveals that the site’s initial design would place a waste handling area atop a fault line capable of producing a magnitude 6+ earthquake. No wonder that the state of Nevada is fighting to block the repository’s construction, and that even the DOE concedes the repository won’t open for another decade.
Such risks and delays are one reason why the Bush Administration is pursuing nuclear waste reprocessing, in which the components of high-level nuclear waste are separated and reused. As I revealed in my Spectrum story on France’s nuclear waste reprocessing experience — “Nuclear Wasteland” — there are serious problems with this approach as well.