Monday, March 09, 2009

Is Nuclear Back On The Table?

It was inevitable that the subject of increased reliance on nuclear power would come up again in light of the new Adminsitration's commitment to clean energy.

By now, everyone knows the dilemma posed by nuclear energy: on the one hand it is a viable, effective source of carbon-free energy that can easily meet our growing energy needs; on the other hand there is an almost archetypal fear of nuclear energy that stems form disaster like the Three Mile Island meltdown and--more importantly-- there is no good solution to the problem osed by spent nuclear rods, the "waste product" of nuclear generation.p

Already, nuclear power provides 15% of California's electricity supply (with just four reactors in operation: 2 at San Onofre and 2 at Diablo Canyon). Nuclear accounts for 20% of the national power supply and 75% of the nation's non-carbon electricity. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently is reviewing more than 30 applications for new nuclear reactor projects across the country, with several projects in the Southeast slated for completion.

But what to do about those spent fuel rods? Rods are currently stored on site at nuclear facilities but the much-maligned Yucca Mountain nuclear graveyard is the planned permanent home (or at least the home for the 100,00 years or so it will take for the rods to decay). Burying spent nuclear fuel 1,000 feet below the earth at Yucca Mountain is projected to cost $100 billion, but it has been deemed adequate to protect human health and the environment.

Environmentalists and the state of Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, disagree.