How can the United States get a handle on its nuclear waste, and what does that challenge mean for the future of nuclear power?
The seemingly never-ending quandary of how to handle radioactive waste from the country's 104 nuclear reactors has been top of mind among Washington's policymakers. Last week, House Republicans again included at least $35 million in their FY13 appropriations bill for the Energy Department that would pay for resuming the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing review process and other work at Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste repository site in Nevada that President Obama nixed in 2009.
Meanwhile, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is working on legislation to set a new strategy for storing the nation's spent fuel, modeled after recommendations put forth by President Obama's blue-ribbon commission report, released in January. That report urges the government to begin work immediately on a permanent repository and also one centralized interim storage facility.
Right now, all of the spent nuclear fuel in the country--more than 65,000 tons--is stored onsite. Eighty percent is stored in water-filled pools, which are considered less safe than the steel-enclosed casks that store the remaining 20 percent.
What safety, environmental, and economic factors should Washington consider as it debates the future of its nuclear-waste policy? Should Yucca Mountain be revived, or should Congress stop debating that repository site once and for all? How does the uncertain future over spent fuel affect the nation's dependence on nuclear power, which provides the nation with 20 percent of its electricity?