Friday, April 11, 2008

Domenici - time to recycle spent fuel

Burying spent fuel is "an outdated strategy"

Nevada Senator Harry Reid must be dancing in the aisle under the Capitol dome this week because his colleague, New Mexico Senator Pete Dominici called the Yucca Mountain project "foolhardy." He said reprocessing spent nuclear fuel makes a lot more sense than burying it underground.

Domenici went a lot further saying that the "strategy for spent nuclear fuel has become badly outdated in light of advances that could reprocess the fuel and leave only a very small percentage of the original material behind as waste." He said this material could be stored in salt formations in New Mexico, presumably at WIPP.

The New Mexico Senator told a hearing it is too late to try to finish the Yucca Mountain Project. He plans to introduce legislation to shift the entire government strategy for dealing with spent nuclear fuel.

"I'm talking about a bill that will start over . . . that puts America on a new path," he said.

He said the U.S. no longer needs Yucca Mountain to manage spent nuclear fuel. Sen. Domenici stated that the proposal would authorize the use of Nuclear Waste Policy Act trust funds to be used to renegotiate agreements with utilities and to develop model licenses for reprocessing facilities that would lead to DOE entering into "long-term service contracts with private entities."
This sounds like son of GNEP, with its emphasis on reliable fuel services, but with more political clout.

There is a lot of support for his view in Congress which is deeply frustrated over years of delays in developing the geologic repository located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is also a signal that Congress is finally going to grapple with spent fuel reprocessing because of the energy and financial value of irradiated fuel that comes out of a reactor.

Sen. Harry Reid and other Nevada politicians have made a lot of political hay out of opposing the Yucca Mountain Project. The Department of Energy has helped him along over the years with a variety of technical, regulatory, and political gaffs that made the multi-billion dollar project a symbol of everything that is wrong with government funded energy projects. Reid is now the Senate majority leader and likely to remain so following the November elections. Domenici's proposed legislation gives Reid what he wants. Will he take it?

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