The Problem with Nuclear Waste

You know, we miss State Rep. Chuck DeVore over here.  Chuck used to stop by all the time to advocate for things like Nucelar power, an industry he’s bound to work for as a consultant or lobbyist once Carly Fiorina wins the Republican primary for US Senate and Chuck is termed out of the assembly (perhaps he can replace Chris Norby as a GOP candidate for the county’s clerk-recorder’s job).

Today’s LA Times carries an editorial that debunks one of Chuck’s arguments on how to deal with nuclear waste — one of the few times a conservative will actually give the French any credit.  Read it here.

From the piece:

“Many conservatives on Capitol Hill favor the French “solution”: spent-fuel reprocessing. But reprocessing isn’t a solution at all: It’s a very expensive and dangerous detour.

Reprocessing takes used or “spent” nuclear fuel and dissolves it to separate the uranium and plutonium from the highly radioactive fission products. The plutonium and uranium are then recycled to make new reactor fuel, thereby reducing the amount of fresh uranium required by about 20%. But based on French and Japanese experience, the cost of producing this recycled fuel is several times that of producing fresh uranium reactor fuel.


The U.S. made the mistake with Yucca Mountain of trying to force a repository on an unwilling state. One alternative would be to follow the path of Finland and Sweden, which have placed their underground repositories in communities that already host nuclear power plants. They have found that once people in a community have accepted a nuclear facility, they view the addition of an underground repository as a relatively minor issue.

In the meantime, spent fuel can be safely stored on site in dry casks for decades. It is not a permanent solution, but there is no reason to panic until we can build more permanent facilities. Reprocessing would be a panic solution.”

Chuck has called for new nuclear plants to be built.  Any communities in California willing to host them?

  5 comments for “The Problem with Nuclear Waste

  1. David
    September 17, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Chuck is right on this topic.

    Nuclear power plants have to be built. It is the only way to cost effectively meet projected energy needs at the moment.

    As for reprocessing versus storage…

    Yes, reprocessing is more expensive from an operational point of view, but what we do right now only uses about 2-5% of the usable energy in our nuclear fuel. This is extremely wasteful.

    Also, if not nuclear then what?

    Right now 50% of our energy is coming from coal, which is far less safe than nuclear. If there is something you should be afraid of it is the political red tape that is keeping the deadly coal industry alive and contributing to global warming in spite of much safer alternatives.

    Solar? Optimistic estimates say it will not even be cost effective versus fossil fuels for about 10 years. In the same time we could get nuclear plants online and meet both our environmental goals and power needs.

    Solar is also a relatively untested technology on the scales of energy production we are talking about.

    Wind? No known technology can make it capable of producing enough energy and still scale with future demand. Also, like solar, the “not in my backyard” problem you mention is much worse as the energy density is very low.

    Nuclear is not perfect. Harvesting energy on a large scale is a dirty business no matter what technology you use. It’s unfortunate that so much of what has killed nuclear power is based on misinformation and emotion rather than rational evaluation of the problem.

    • September 17, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      No they don’t have to be built. There has been terrific progress in solar and wind power in recent years and battery technology is also getting better. Nuclear power just provides a toxic waste byproduct that creates problems for your great-great-great-great-great-great (et al) great grandchildren centuries from now, assuming mankind makes it that far. Chuck isn’t right about a lot of things. Which is why his own party has begun abandoning his ship for Carly Fiorina.

  2. David
    September 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I’m not a Chuck supporter, just an advocate of Nuclear Power.

    I think you haven’t really looked into what the real risks of nuclear waste disposal are and compared them to the alternatives.

    The current methods of power generation are far worse for the environment and future generations than the relatively small problem of nuclear fuel mining and waste disposal.

    Also, one of the arguments for reprocessing is that it significantly reduces the amount of time that it remains toxic. It’s the current legislation that mandates we throw extremely hazardous materials into the sides of mountains to sit for thousands of years.

    Have you ever considered the environmental impact of large scale solar power? It has issues too. For example, what energy do you use to manufacture it in the first place? Right now it will be coal. You need a kilometer of land for every 60 megawatts of energy you produce. What does this do for wildlife habitats?

    I know it may sound paradoxical, but when you look at the big picture Nuclear is probably the best environmental option we will be able to come up with for a very long time.

    • September 20, 2009 at 7:39 am

      I think you really haven’t looked into the long term effects of storing toxic waste byproducts for centuries.

  3. David
    September 20, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    You might want to investigate what is called a Molten Salt Reactor that use Thorium rather than Uranium.

    It’s purely political fear of the word ‘nuclear’ that keeps us from developing this sort of technology.

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