Sunday, July 8, 2007

New nuclear plants in California are decades away

State policy is "What is you don't understand about no?"

Prospects for approval and construction of a new nuclear plant in California are dim. The reason is simple. The development of new nuclear energy facilities in California is prohibited by law. The reason is the state's energy commission found in the 1976 that there was no permanent solution to the final disposition of spent nuclear fuel. In the 30 years that have passed since then nothing has changed and neither has the view of the California State Legislature or the state's Energy Commission.

In June 2007 the Energy Commission held a series of hearings on the status of nuclear power in the state. Most observers didn't expect any change in the Commission's view on new nuclear plants and they were right. The reason is California is home to more than 2,400 tons of spent nuclear fuel. It continues to accumulate with no place to go according to Robert Weisenmiller, VP of MRW Associates, a consulting firm that gave the opening presentation to the Commission.

The failure of the federal government to open a place to put the spent nuclear fuel is the reason California continues its ban on new nuclear plants. Ed Knox, who spoke at the hearing for the U.S. Department of Energy, said the agency will ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commissoin (NRC) in June 2008 for a license to operate the Yucca Mountain Repository. Delays in the licensing process are likely because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not drafted radiation protection standards the NRC can use in the licensing process. Knox said he felt optimistic about making progress. MRW told the Commission a realistic date for opening Yucca Mountain is 2020,

After the hearings, California Energy Commission member John Geesman told wire services he doesn't see that anything has changed since 1976. Instead, he said, "California should expect to maintain spent nuclear fuel in dry cask storage for a very long time, perhaps decades." That could also be the wait time before any new nuclear power plants are authorized to be built in the state by the Commission unless the state law is changed.

Alan Hanson, a VP with AREVA, told the commission another solution is reprocessing. He said it could take 10-15 years to build a new spent fuel reprocessing center in the US. A more immediate solution would be to ship the fuel overseas to existing plants. The MRW report offered a different view saying reprocessing was not economical.

In the end the Commission reaffirmed its view that no new nuclear power plants can be built in California until either Yucca Mountain opens or some other solution is brought to bear on the problem.

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