How much high-level waste is there?
About 160,000 spent fuel assemblies, containing 45,000 tons of spent fuel from nuclear power plants, are currently in storage in the United States. Of these, about 156,500 assemblies are stored at nuclear power plants, and approximately 3,500 assemblies are stored at away-from-reactor storage facilities, such as the General Electric plant at Morris, Illinois. The vast majority of the assemblies are stored in water pools, and less than 5% are stored in dry casks.
About 7,800 used fuel assemblies are taken out of reactors each year and are stored until a disposal facility becomes available.
If all the 160,000 spent fuel assemblies currently in storage were assembled in one place, they would only cover a football field about 5 1/2 yards high.
In 2006, Vinod Khosla, a veteran venture capitalist best known as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, discovered an obscure Australian company, Ausra, pursuing solar thermal. He persuaded the management of Ausra to move to Silicon Valley and helped it raise money.
Ausra recently signed a deal with PG&E, the big California utility company, to supply a large solar plant. “The best work in solar is happening in Silicon Valley,” Mr. Khosla says.
Once a suitable salt dome or salt bed deposit is discovered, and deemed suitable for natural gas storage, it is necessary to develop a 'salt cavern' within the formation. Essentially, this consists of using water to dissolve and extract a certain amount of salt from the deposit, leaving a large empty space in the formation.
Some 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected. Although this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining. Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., show that more than enough land in the Southwest is available without requiring use of environmentally sensitive areas, population centers or difficult terrain. Jack Lavelle, a spokesperson for Arizona’s Department of Water Conservation, has noted that more than 80 percent of his state’s land is not privately owned and that Arizona is very interested in developing its solar potential. The benign nature of photovoltaic plants (including no water consumption) should keep environmental concerns to a minimum.
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