Nuclear Waste
June 14, 2012 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Matt Stroud, Wrote an amazing article on The Verge: Wasteland: the 50-year battle to entomb our toxic nuclear remains
posted by NotSoSiniSter (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
If we weren't so scared of building new nuclear power plants, most of this 'spent waste' could be used in next generation plants (e.g. the kind that physically can't melt down) and provide power for centuries.
posted by brenton at 1:50 PM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


a tall, confident man with a New Mexico drawl similar to that of George W. Bush

On behalf of New Mexicans:

YOU TAKE THAT BACK, AND THEN YOU SHUT YOUR FILTHY MOUTH.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:57 PM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


He talked about the reprocessing option:

"For one, it’s expensive. A secret Japanese government report (unearthed by the Mainichi Daily News) in 2004 showed that standard, uranium-mined nuclear power was one-fourth to one-third less expensive than the equivalent reprocessing options."

There were some other reasons, but the biggest is this one. It's not economical. I still think that nuclear power is a good source of energy, we just needed to get a perminant storage place together.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 2:01 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


2012: so we've officially run out of space on the surface of planet Earth?
posted by dongolier at 2:12 PM on June 14, 2012


"a tall, confident man with a New Mexico drawl similar to that of George W. Bush"

Yeah, what they're describing is a West Texas accent, which is shared by portions of Eastern and Southern New Mexico. Even in those areas, it's generally not as strong as it is in Texas. Three-quarters of the population of the state doesn't sound like that at all.

As a matter of fact, I vividly recall traveling with a friend's family when they drove to the Hill Country in Central Texas to pick up my friend after a summer working at a summer camp. We stayed at a quaint rural motel where the owner actually invited in for dinner. My friend and his family were, like most everyone else in Eastern New Mexico, of Texas stock, and so had a little bit of the Texas drawl. I don't, having spent my early years in Albuquerque. At one point in the conversation, the woman asked us where we were all from, originally, because the others "didn't have much of an accent", but that she noticed a "strong New Mexican accent" in me. That was one of those moments when you realize that your "accentless" speech is just another regionally variation.

With regard to this article, even though I'm progressive, I'm still very pissed at the decades of opposition against WIPP that was mostly centered in Santa Fe and far, far from Carlsbad (which always supported it). The opposition was fueled by pig-ignorant scare-mongering about low-level nuclear waste. As some waste is moved from Los Alamos through Santa Fe and down the Interstate, they eventually built an extremely expensive bypass that has no real justification other than placating those who were freaked out about low-level waste moving through Santa Fe's streets. The chances of an accident with one of those trucks is low, the risk of exposure were there an accident is about nil, and the risks associated with the numerous tankers transporting actually dangerous substances is much higher.

And the reason why this pissed me off, and generally the NIMBY opposition to high-level waste disposal pisses me off (although I agree that Yucca Mountain is a terrible site and was selected mostly for political reasons) is that this high-level stuff is sitting in barrels in disposal ponds and stored all over the damn place above ground, in urban areas and near-urban areas, with insufficient regulatory oversight and the chances of a serious accident are unacceptably high and getting higher every day. The opposition to low-level pissed me off because this is stuff like gloves and all the detritus associated with the nuclear industry and isn't that dangerous but sure as hell oughtn't be sitting around in storage all across the USA, either.

Honestly, NIMBY just generally pisses me off when it's clearly in the public good and it truly does just come down to the sentiment that it should be someone else's burden.

The nuclear industry is, of course, basically on big NIMBY problem where the proximity is about time, not distance. We're creating a problem and implicitly making it someone else's at some point in the future. But that's another argument. Right now, we have all this waste, it has to go somewhere, and we have to put on our big-kid pants and decide what to do with it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:17 PM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


it used to be you could fly low over Beatty,NV and when you got over the houses your Geiger counter would start to click away like mad---the town's folk had found the place in the desert where the army had left all the appliances, furniture and TV's from the mocked up 50s atomic blast test homes, and put anything useful in their own homes.

nuclear waste is just so... nasty! (it gets everywhere!)
posted by dongolier at 2:30 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is just the hot waste, what about all the material from dismantled nuclear plants. It can take 40 years to dismantle a plant that only ran for 40 years.
posted by stbalbach at 2:42 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


the town's folk had found the place in the desert where the army had left all the appliances, furniture and TV's from the mocked up 50s atomic blast test homes, and put anything useful in their own homes.

Is this true? That's incredible.
posted by postcommunism at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2012


As some waste is moved from Los Alamos through Santa Fe and down the Interstate, they eventually built an extremely expensive bypass that has no real justification other than placating those who were freaked out about low-level waste moving through Santa Fe's streets.

On the plus side, it is now a lot easier to get to Los Alamos and Espanola from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The bypass has had a positive impact on the amount of rush-hour traffic in town, and that's only likely to increase as the west side develops -- I'd even say that the bypass is one of the things which has helped drive development on that side of town, which is important since that's where much of the low(er)-income housing is.

I pass those low-grade-nuclear-waste trucks all the time on the highway; they look like this, and they don't bother me -- I'm far more worried about another wildfire spreading the waste that's still in Los Alamos. I was pretty impressed by the trio of signs one had, though: Radioactive, Corrosive, and a new pictographic sign featuring a dead fish and a blasted tree...
posted by vorfeed at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"On the plus side, it is now a lot easier to get to Los Alamos and Espanola from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The bypass has had a positive impact on the amount of rush-hour traffic in town, and that's only likely to increase as the west side develops -- I'd even say that the bypass is one of the things which has helped drive development on that side of town, which is important since that's where much of the low(er)-income housing is."

Yeah, it's kind of cool for numerous reasons. Anyone who regularly traveled north via Cerillos or St. Francis appreciates the bypass. And I've noticed the development around it. All in all, it's a good thing and almost certainly a net positive. But it was expensive and its raison d'etre was so that the trucks would avoid going straight through town. And the federal government paid for it entirely or almost entirely, right?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:29 PM on June 14, 2012


But it was expensive and its raison d'etre was so that the trucks would avoid going straight through town. And the federal government paid for it entirely or almost entirely, right?

Looks like the DoE paid for it, yes. Given the state of NMDOT, I figure getting someone else to pay for a convenient bypass is a positive for New Mexico, even if the only reason is anti-nuke panic.
posted by vorfeed at 3:39 PM on June 14, 2012


The management of nuclear waste is a huge political issue. The manager of the WIPP regulatory program for 17 years was shuffled over to food inspection (newspaper article) when the adminstration changed last year.
posted by backwords at 3:56 PM on June 14, 2012


It's a complicated issue, which is not helped by emotive journalism like this. The article complains specifically about how the problem came to be, about the various proposed options for storage of nuclear waste, and the political problems that face a solution. It admits that it can't be ignored forever, but fails to critically examine the options and propose a solution, or even a route by which we may discover a solution.
There are lots of things that should have been done differently with nuclear power, but were not, for a variety of reasons which ultimately trace back to euphemisms like "strategic" and "defence". However, whether you are pro- or anti-nuclear and no matter how hard we all might wish it, we can't make the existing waste problem disappear . It must be dealt with sooner or later. It dismays me that every proposal on the disposal of nuclear waste (in almost all of the relevant countries) meets with a resolute "no" camp, which nevertheless fails to offer any constructive alternative. We can't kick the can down the road forever. In the words of Carlyle, it is "the most ominous of all practical matters whatever; a matter in regard to which if something be not done, something will do itself one day, and in a fashion that will please nobody."
posted by Jakey at 4:02 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


a new pictographic sign featuring a dead fish and a blasted tree...

That fish just looks weird to me without the standard X's for eyes.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:00 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


A long, professionally-written, thorough, excellent introduction to the topic, which gingerly tiptoes around most of the serious questions.
posted by Twang at 5:49 PM on June 14, 2012


Whenever people tell me that nuclear power has an amazing $ per kWh delivered to the consumer cost, the long term cost of encapsulating, transporting and storing nuclear waste is rarely figured into the decision. For all we know, the cost of running nuclear power in the US might actually be closer to $0.85 US per kWh, not $0.05 per kWh.
posted by thewalrus at 7:32 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: "a new pictographic sign featuring a dead fish and a blasted tree..."

It might be mistaken for this.
posted by stbalbach at 10:00 PM on June 14, 2012


Whenever people tell me that nuclear power has an amazing $ per kWh delivered to the consumer cost, the long term cost of encapsulating, transporting and storing nuclear waste is rarely figured into the decision. For all we know, the cost of running nuclear power in the US might actually be closer to $0.85 US per kWh, not $0.05 per kWh.

You seem to be suggesting that dealing with waste accounts for 16 times the cost of everything else put together. Saying "for all we know" doesn't mean you can just make up any number you like, no matter how high, just because you've never bothered to look into it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:20 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yucca mountain, which is not even operational, has cost $12 billion so far.
posted by thewalrus at 12:22 AM on June 15, 2012


Oh, and the projected cost to make it fully operational over its full lifetime, until it's full, is around $86 to $90 billion.
posted by thewalrus at 12:23 AM on June 15, 2012


There's an amazing film on the storage of nuclear material called Into Eternity (link to trailer), which talks about a long-term nuclear waste storage site. In this industry, long term is just that; 10,000 years.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:33 AM on June 15, 2012


Yucca mountain, which is not even operational, has cost $12 billion so far.

Oh, and the projected cost to make it fully operational over its full lifetime, until it's full, is around $86 to $90 billion.


Throwing around large dollar values, without putting them into context, doesn't help anyone. First, $12 billion is peanuts compared to energy expenditures in the US, which run in the trillions per year. Second, giving a lifetime cost without specifying how many years the lifetime will be is leaving out critical information. That lifetime, by the way, is 150 years, according to USA Today. That's $667 million a year (in 2007 dollars), which, again, is peanuts. Total federal spending in 2007 was $2.8 trillion dollars, of which $20 billion was for energy.

To address your original point, the Nuclear Energy Institute says that the levy on nuclear power to support waste disposal is 0.1c per kWh. Even if you think that should be doubled, it still is a minor part of the cost of nuclear power, and is several orders of magnitude less than $0.80. You could have figured that out with a quick Google search.

Frankly, I'd rather money be used for harnessing the energy that the giant fusion reactor in the sky sends us. But a reflexive anti-nuclear stance bolstered by made-up or contextless numbers isn't helpful to anyone.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:45 AM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


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