Jaczko claims small victory after failed coup attempt

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It was a hearing more fit for Dr. Phil than C-SPAN, but members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission bemoaned the behavior of commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko — as they flanked him in a hearing room.

It is laughable to think that some members of Congress have the audacity to complain about another government body being plagued by bullies, angry tirades or dysfunction. (Don’t they have mirrors?) Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said it best: “Congress isn’t functioning very well at all. So I don’t want to sit here and tell you how to conduct your business.”

However, hypocrisy wasn’t going to stop his colleagues, some of whom demanded Jaczko apologize and some of whom called for Jaczko’s resignation.

There is no allegation that Jaczko has done anything illegal so, has Jaczko stifled work and put the safety of Americans at risk because of a poor management style?

No

This year alone the commission has held 48 meetings, 14 planning sessions and made dozens of official decisions. That doesn’t sound like commissioners are getting shoved aside or left in the dark.

Jaczko has dared to act independently, he has been attacked by the industry, by members of Congress and by his colleagues.

The striking point for all of this goes back to the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Japan earlier this year. Jaczko took control of his agency, as he is allowed to do, and called for a task force study of how to improve safety in American nuclear power plants.

The other commissioners have balked at Jaczko’s push for safety, showing themselves to be petulant and contrary, and that’s the real problem at the NRC.

If anyone is endangering the public, it’s not Jaczko. He may need to put some polish on his management skills, but there is no need for change in the chairmanship. He has stood up for the public by trying to ensure the safety of the nation’s reactors. His colleagues, meanwhile, have been in a snit and should be ashamed. They should apologize and start following Jaczko’s lead.

Source: Las Vegas Sun

Pro-nuclear voices also claim that Jaczko has been irresponsible with his handling of the Yucca Mountain Project, and that his appointment was nothing more than leverage for Harry Reid to shut down the project. However, under the Obama Administration funding for development of Yucca Mountain waste site was terminated effective with the 2011 federal budget passed by Congress on April 14, 2011.

Many voices have been raised protesting that the Yucca Mountain project meant more to continuing the operation of nuclear power plants than long term storage.  Nearly every nuclear power station in the United States is drastically overloaded with spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste.  If there is no off-site storage in the near-term future, it may require certain stations to close down, as they will be unable to handle any additional waste.  So the decision may not be completely political, but either way the safety of the American people is not the main issue.

Spent nuclear fuel is the radioactive by-product of electric power generation at commercial nuclear power plants, and high-level radioactive waste is the by-product from reprocessing spent fuel to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel and other high level radioactive waste, until the project was canceled in 2009. It was to be located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 mi (130 km) northwest of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The proposed repository was withinYucca Mountain, a ridge line in the south-central part of Nevada near its border with California.

No one lives at Yucca Mountain, yet in 1987, the Nevada Legislature established the 144-square mile Bullfrog County around Yucca Mountain. It was designed so federal money would get sent to the whole state, instead of just Nye County. The closest year-round housing for the site is about 14 miles south in Amargosa Valley.


How did Nevada, which has no nuclear power plants of its own, come to be viewed as the spot to store all spent radioactive waste from the country’s 100-plus nuclear power plants?

The Department of Energy has had its eye on Yucca since 1978.

That’s when the DOE looked at a 1957 recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences that found the best way to dispose of nuclear waste was to place it inside rocks deep underground.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established a program that put the DOE in charge of finding, building and operating an underground waste repository.

On December 19, 1984, the Department of Energy selected ten locations in six states for consideration as potential repository sites. This was based on data collected for nearly ten years.

In 1985, the DOE gave President Reagan a choice of six potential sites. Reagan picked three for further study: in the states of Washington, Texas and Nevada.

The three sites were Hanford, WashingtonDeaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain.

Then in 1987, Congress approved amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, also known as the “Screw Nevada Bill,” in which the DOE was to concentrate solely on Yucca Mountain as the national site.

The bill amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to say that if Yucca Mountain is ever found unsuitable, then the DOE would find a new storage site.

In 1987, Congress  and directed DOE to study only Yucca Mountain, which is already located within a former nuclear test site. The Act provided that if during Site Characterization the Yucca Mountain location is found unsuitable, studies will be stopped immediately.

The Department of Energy was to begin accepting spent fuel at the Yucca Mountain Repository by January 31, 1998 but did not do so because of a series of delays due to legal challenges, concerns over how to transport nuclear waste to the facility, and political pressures resulting in underfunding of the construction.

In the 2008 Omnibus Spending Bill, the Yucca Mountain Project’s budget was reduced to $390 million. Despite this cut in funding, the project was able to reallocate resources and delay transportation expenditures to complete the License Application for submission on June 3, 2008.

Lacking an operating repository, however, the federal government owes to the utilities somewhere between $300 and $500 million per year in compensation for failing to comply with the contract it signed to take the spent nuclear fuel by 1998.

In March 2005, the Energy and Interior departments revealed that several U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists had exchanged e-mails discussing possible falsification of quality assurance documents on water infiltration research.

On February 17, 2006, the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) released a report confirming the technical soundness of infiltration modeling work performed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees.

In March 2006, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Majority Staff issued a 25 page white paper “Yucca Mountain: The Most Studied Real Estate on the Planet.”

The conclusions were:

 

  • Extensive studies consistently show Yucca Mountain to be a sound site for nuclear waste disposal
  • The cost of not moving forward is extremely high
  • Nuclear waste disposal capability is an environmental imperative
  • Nuclear waste disposal capability supports national security
  • Demand for new nuclear plants also demands disposal capability

In May 2009, Secretary Steven Chu stated:

“Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago.

The NRC is saying that the dry cask storage at current sites would be safe for many decades, so that gives us time to figure out what we should do for a long-term strategy. We will be assembling a blue-ribbon panel to look at the issue.

We’re looking at reactors that have a high-energy neutron spectrum that can actually allow you to burn down the long-lived actinide waste.

These are fast-neutron reactors. There’s others: a resurgence of hybrid solutions of fusion fission where the fusion would impart not only energy, but again creates high-energy neutrons that can burn down the long-lived actinides. …

“Some of the waste is already vitrified. There is, in my mind, no economical reason why you would ever think of pulling it back into a potential fuel cycle. So one could well imagine—again, it depends on what the blue-ribbon panel says—one could well imagine that for a certain classification for a certain type of waste, you don’t want to have access to it anymore, so that means you could use different sites than Yucca Mountain, such as salt domes.

Once you put it in there, the salt oozes around it. These are geologically stable for a 50 to 100 million year time scale. The trouble with those type of places for repositories is you don’t have access to it anymore.

But say for certain types of waste you don’t want to have access to it anymore—that’s good. It’s a very natural containment. …whereas there would be other waste where you say it has some inherent value, let’s keep it around for a hundred years, two hundred years, because there’s a high likelihood we’ll come back to it and want to recover that.

“So the real thing is, let’s get some really wise heads together and figure out how you want to deal with the interim and long-term storage. Yucca was supposed to be everything to everybody, and I think, knowing what we know today, there’s going to have to be several regional areas.”

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