During a report about President Obama's decision to stop funding a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Fox News' William La Jeunesse referred to Obama's decision as "$13 billion of your money down the drain" and said that the facility is, "from an engineering standpoint," "complete" but "just waiting for a license" -- suggesting that Obama's decision cost taxpayers billions of dollars for no reason. However, even if Yucca Mountain were to receive a license -- which could be several years -- experts say it may not be safe, would not be able to receive radioactive fuel for a "long time," and the costs to build, operate, and receive the fuel have reportedly ballooned to more than $96 billion.
La Jeunesse suggested because of Obama, Yucca may be "single biggest waste of your money ever"
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
MARTHA MacCALLUM (anchor): Well, it is a tax waste the size of a mountain, and a White House about-face causing problems for America's nuclear industry. William La Jeunesse is tracking your taxes. William, what's coming up?
LA JEUNESSE: Well, Martha, $13 billion and still nowhere to put America's nuclear waste. Now, coming up, I will show you what may be the single biggest waste of your money ever, and it's getting worse every day.
La Jeunesse: Yucca is "complete, from an engineering standpoint. It's just waiting for a license"
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): It has been called the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars in history, billions of our money sunk into a hole that's supposed to be used for nuclear waste, but now, Yucca Mountain, out West, will probably never ever be used.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): William La Jeunesse is tracking your taxes live right near the San --
KILMEADE: -- Onofre nuclear power plant out in California. How much is this going to cost?
LA JEUNESSE: Well, I mean, how much of your money is gone? About $13 billion. Now, San Onofre -- you can't see it, it's a little dark here still -- is one of about 100 nuclear plants around the country. Each one, of course, generates tons of nuclear waste. Now, for 25 years, the federal government has been taxing consumers and ratepayers to pay for a place to put it. That is Yucca Mountain. It is complete, from an engineering standpoint. It's just waiting for a license. But the president says it is dead and will never be used. That is $13 billion of your money down the drain.
LA JEUNESSE: The federal government imposed a tax on your power bill for 25 years to pay for Yucca Mountain and promised America's nuclear industry it would have a place to store its waste by 1998. Since then, however, the feds have paid out almost 600 million in legal settlements for failing to live up to that commitment and expect another 11 billion on top of that. And with no plan for all this waste, America's cleanest, most dependable source of energy is in jeopardy.
But Yucca may not get a license, and if it does, experts say it may not be used for years
University of Illinois report: "[N]o particular reason" to expect that Yucca will accept spent fuel any time soon. According to a June 2009 University of Illinois report written by nuclear engineering experts, "[i]t may be difficult to license Yucca Mountain at all," and "even if licensed, Yucca Mountain will not start accepting spent fuel for a long time." From the report:
An underlying problem is that the legal requirement that the Department of Energy (DOE) take title to spent nuclear fuel has not been met for twenty-seven years since passage of the NWPA in 1982. And there is no particular reason to expect this approach will change in the foreseeable future. It appears, then, that spent nuclear fuel is destined to remain at about seventy U.S. nuclear reactor sites for several reasons. First, even if licensed, Yucca Mountain will not start accepting spent fuel for a long time. Second, nuclear reactors will soon produce more spent fuel than Yucca Mountain would be licensed to receive. And, third, it may be difficult to license Yucca Mountain at all, much less to amend the license for it to take more spent fuel. Thus a lot of spent nuclear fuel will continue to accumulate at reactor sites around the country, leaving those sites to manage this material. There is no question but that this management will remain subject to oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The question raised here is how or even whether the federal government should take title to spent nuclear fuel, especially as long as the spent fuel remains in the state in which it was generated. This question, in turn, raises the one of how funds for spent fuel management will be administered.
Licensing process itself takes years. According to a March 5 Associated Press article, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for reviewing the Energy Department's application for a license to begin construction on the facility, has four years to complete the review process. The Energy Department submitted its application in June 2008. According to the article, "There appear to be no immediate plans by the Energy Department to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application before the NRC because to do so could trigger lawsuits from the nuclear industry. The NRC has up to four years to consider the application."
Unresolved concerns about facility's safety are keeping it from coming online
NRC is considering at least 299 "contentions" to Yucca's license. In a September 15 article, the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that the NRC is considering nearly 300 "contentions" from multiple petitioners against the license. A "contention," from a legal or technical standpoint, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is "a specific concern or issue material to the licensing of Yucca Mountain." The article reported that the state of Nevada recently filed five more contentions, in addition to the nearly 300 that the NRC has already agreed to review.
"Contentions" are mostly safety concerns about facility, and some needed technology is not ready. When Nevada originally filed the contentions, the Review-Journal reported in a December 20, 2008, article that "[o]f the 229 contentions presented to nuclear regulators, most -- 180 -- pertain to safety." From the article:
State scientists believe geologic conditions of the mountain coupled with under-estimated corrosion rates of waste containers could result in deadly radioactive materials escaping the repository sometime before the hundreds of thousands of years that the remnants reach peak doses. Some of the equipment described in DOE's application for emplacing containers by remote control and other elements such as drip shields to divert water either don't exist or haven't been tested.
"They have not accurately estimated ground water flows in the mountain," [Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Director Bob] Loux said Friday as he continued to head the State Nuclear Projects Agency until his replacement is chosen in the wake of controversy over his approval of unauthorized salary hikes in the office.
In addition, Loux noted, DOE's license application doesn't address the possibility that the ridge top could erode and climate change could impact the integrity of the site.
New contentions address volcanoes, corrosion as well. The September 15 Review-Journal article reported that a "key concern is the state's assertion that the DOE used 'improper techniques' in a safety assessment of how fast a metal known as Alloy-22 will corrode if it is used for waste containers," and that "[t]he state also repeatedly has questioned the DOE's logic behind its plan to wait 75 years to install titanium drip shields to prevent water from trickling onto waste containers entombed in a maze of tunnels inside the volcanic-rock ridge, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas." From the article:
[Executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Bruce] Breslow said the Alloy-22 corrosion study challenge comes in addition to new safety contentions about water infiltrating the planned repository from 10,000 years to 1 million years and effects from erosion during the same time period.
Also, two challenges are related to future volcanoes affecting Yucca Mountain.
Despite uncertainty about viability, the project is expected to cost taxpayers more than $96 billion
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Cost jumped from $57 billion to more than $96 billion. According to a July 16, 2008, Review-Journal article, "The projected costs to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, ship used radioactive fuel to Nevada from around the country and operate the site for 100 years have grown to more than $90 billion, an energy department official said Tuesday." The article added: "The department's previous 'total system life cycle' cost estimate for the repository was $57.6 billion, set in 2001. Since that time, the project schedule repeatedly has been pushed back and some of its key elements are being redesigned."
Reid: "Flawed plan" and a "bloated budget." According to a statement posted on Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) website, the Yucca Mountain plan was "flawed" and had a "bloated budget." From the statement:
In 2008, the DOE announced that it was raising Yucca Mountain's estimated price tag from $57.5 billion to over $96 billion. Beyond its bloated budget, the Yucca Mountain project faced a laundry list of scientific, technical, public health, legal, and safety problems. The skyrocketing price tag, the steadfast opposition of Nevadans and their congressional delegation, and the growing understanding that Yucca was a mortally flawed proposal have led to the project's demise.
While the Obama administration's budget cut funding for the Yucca Mountain program, it provided almost $197 million for the Department of Energy to explore alternative ways to store energy.