The Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle-Disposal-Details of Yucca Mountain Storage


So we see some of the work that has been done
to study how high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel could be transported to Yucca
Mountain, and how the geology of the mountain might affect the stored high-level waste. Let’s take a look at what the plans are
to actually get the fuel from the surface into position in the repository and what it
might look like in long-term storage. Here’s a view of the main tunnel, as you
are going in. This is where the fuel would enter the repository
and ride the rails going down the main shaft until it came to one of the drifts, or side
tunnels, cut out from the main tunnel. The high-level waste packages will be stored
in these drifts off of the main tunnel. For the first 50 years, the fuel would site
in these highly engineered packages, open to the air, but surrounded with the stainless
steel drip shield. After 50 years, the waste is then cool enough
that the drift could then be backfilled with earth and other engineered barriers and left
in place for the next million years or so. All of this looks rather expensive to me,
so one might think that we poor tax payers have been digging deep into our pockets to
pay for all of this, but, actually, that’s not true. As we saw, back in 1982, the federal government
passed a law where they collect a 10th of a cent per kilowatt hour of nuclear-generated
electricity, and this is paid to the government in the form of a tax. The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management,
or the OCRWM, takes this money, and it is they, a division of the Department of Energy,
that are managing the work done at Yucca Mountain. Thus far, the money that has gone into the
nuclear waste tax now totals over $27 billion. You can see here what money has been put into
the fund by this tax on electricity generation and what money has been requested and given
to OCRWM by congress each year. In 2007 in a report to congree, the OCRWM
projected that the entire cost of Yucca Mountain would be $26.9 billion. This is great news. We’ve already collected more money than
it would take to finish the repository. On the other hand, the Department of Energy
has requested space in the mountain, and, once they found out how much trouble it was
to get a repository even in one place, they decided to make it big enough that it would
hold all the nuclear waste for all time. They’ve essentially tripled the size of
the repository under Yucca Mountain, and, with this change, the price triples also. They’re now saying that it will cost on
the order of $90 billion. If they could keep collecting money at the
rate they have so far, the utilities will again underwrite everything.

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