No need to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain
November 25, 2001
By Nevada Policy Research Institute
The Nevada Policy Research Institute, the Silver State's free-market think tank, this week released a study that describes a number of alternatives to burying the nuclear-power industry's spent-fuel rods inside Yucca Mountain.
In "Spare the Rods," NPRI argues that it is time for policymakers, the nuclearpower industry and the public to stop seeing used nuclear fuel as "waste."
Commercial reactors' leftovers, the study argues, is "not waste to be buried and forgotten, but a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace." "Two decades ago the federal government decided that the best way to deal with used nuclear fuel is to shove it beneath a mountain in Southern Nevada," said NPRI Chairman Ranson Webster.
"We believe that was a fundamentally flawed decision, one that fails to recognize the value such material has in the growing - and global - nuclear industry,
"Spare the Rods" recommends the complete dissolution of the U.S. Department of Energy. It proposes that the Nuclear Waste Fund, which was established to study, build and operate a repository at Yucca Mountain, be disbursed to the entities now in possession of spent nuclear fuel.
The billions of dollars diverted from the failed Yucca Mountain program would then be available to find private sector solutions.
"There are many things that can be done with used nuclear fuel besides burying it forever," said NPRI Editorial Director Steven Miller. "The United States can remove the ban its has placed on recycling the fuel, and thus give birth to an entirely new sector of the American nuclear-power industry. Our spent fuel could also be shipped abroad, where recycling is common."
NPRI's report also suggests that nuclear utilities use their portion of the Nuclear Waste Fund to set up laboratories to study transmutation, a process by which the radioactivity of nuclear material is reduced.
"Spare the Rods" lists the many failures of the federal government's command-and-control "solution" to the "problem" of spent nuclear fuel.
From political shenanigans to changes in repository design, the study documents how the DOE's Yucca Mountain program has failed Nevada, the nuclear-power industry and American taxpayers.
"The Yucca Mountain repository is an attempt to fix, through the political process, what is essentially an economic problem," said D. Dowd Muska, one of the study's authors. "That kind of approach almost never works, and it's failing spectacularly in the Southern Nevada desert."
NPRI's study notes that while a revolution in privatization and deregulation is sweeping the globe, Washington's "monolithic, bureaucrat-run and failure-ridden" Yucca Mountain project plods along as it has for decades, still insisting that putting used nuclear fuel "in a mountain in Southern Nevada ... is better than allowing the private sector to develop new and dynamic solutions."
"Spare the Rods" is perhaps the first attempt to analyze the Yucca Mountain controversy from the free-market perspective. The study breaks new ground on the fight against the project, because until now fewYucca Mountain opponents have examined how the power of markets can make the need for a nuclear repository unnecessary.
"The Nuclear Waste Policy Act," said Muska, "which gave us the Yucca Mountain repository program, is almost 20 years old. It's time to admit that the legislation has been a disaster. It's time to enact the Nuclear Waste Privatization Act."
NPRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that finds private solutions for public problems facing Nevada, the West and the nation.
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