Yucca Mountain 'terminated'

08 May 2009

It has already been dumped, but the the long-running Yucca Mountain waste disposal plan has now been officially 'terminated' in the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) 2010 budget request.


Although energy secretary Steven Chu requested $197 million for the USA's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, the money is only enough to keep the office ticking over and liaise with regulators who are examining the licence application for the project.


The DoE said that under its budget proposal: "All funding for the development of the Yucca Mountain facility would be eliminated, such as further land acquisition, transportation access, and additional engineering."


"The FY2010 budget request... implements the Administration's decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain program while developing nuclear waste disposal alternatives."


The department plans to establish what it called a 'blue-ribbon' commission to evaluate options for the country to meet its commitment to manage high-level military wastes as well as used nuclear fuel on behalf of nuclear power utilities. The panel will give recommendations the DoE said "would form the basis for working with Congress to revise the statutory framework for managing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste." Many observers have wondered what such a panel would uncover that many millions of dollars of research failed to find.


Elsewhere in the budget, waste-related requests were made for research into nuclear fuel cycle options. Some $192 million - about half of all of nuclear power's proposed funding - would go to research and development which will "provide a sound basis for any future decision on the US nuclear fuel cycle."


Currently the USA uses the 'once-through' fuel cycle where nuclear fuel would be disposed of after one use. Other leading nuclear countries like France, Japan, Russia and the UK use reprocessing to varying degrees in order to extract re-usable parts of used nuclear fuel and reduce the volume of waste. Reprocessing is not allowed in the USA after a decisions made in the 1970s, but it is possible that its benefits - particularly in waste volume reduction - could see reprocessing make a comeback in a new US fuel cycle philosophy.