It came as something of a surprise to learn last week that, after years of study, planning, debate, controversy and largely politically motivated opposition, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository plan has been deep-sixed by our new messiah. Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that the senator for Nevada is a certain Harry Reid; you know, the one who made such an ass of himself over Tombstone Burris, first defiantly saying no, then all-of-a-sudden (after getting the message from the messiah) welcoming the latter with open arms into the little club known as the Senate?
All those science books will now have to be rewritten, because the Yucca Mountain repository tends to feature as the place where all the nuclear waste was going to live happily ever after. If that would in fact be true of course we will now never know. Would the stronger-than-anticipated flow of water through the mountain really have had a significant impact on the integrity of the waste? Was that concern the reason for its abandonment? I suspect not. The new messiah says that a "better" plan is needed. Easy for him to say, though I submit that it pays little respect to all those who had worked on the Yucca one. Should I mention at this point that about $10 billion had been spent on the project to date? Is there an implication here that these people had deliberately chosen a bad plan? Would they not have had the sense to select the best available option? There is a kind of arrogance associated with that kind of sweeping decision made within moments of taking power. In a very tiny parallel example, at the COD we have learned that, after some forty years, the COD colors will no longer be the green and gold of the Green Bay Packers, but will change to some combination of green and gray. What has been good enough for the Packers is no longer up to snuff for COD, or so says one individual.
But I digress. The nuke presents a problem for those embracing alternative (to fossil fuel) energy because for so many years it has lingered, rightly or wrongly, in the environmental dog house. One big bang in Chernobyl (how many decades ago?) had a fall-out of far greater proportion than perhaps deserved. When I organized a "town hall" meeting at the COD a couple of winters ago with Environment Illinois, their representative asked me if I knew anyone at Argonne I could invite. I duly did, but when the chap discovered his pro-nuke stance he promptly uninvited him in a rather embarrassing turn. No, it all had to be about wind and solar and CFLs.
Yet, even now, the tide is changing. Those Euros, who are all-seeing and all-knowing, who have embraced the wind and built their super-insulating homes, are facing the realities of energy and letting the nuke back in. Of course in France it never went away; and one has to wonder how in France it has always gone so smoothly with never an accident or a controversy over waste disposal. The reality is that the wind is good but it is not enough by itself. Thus the Italians, who dumped all their nuclear plants post-Chernobyl, are planning new ones, as are the British and other nations.
In their haste to embrace new alternative energy sources, many people overlook the fact that all of them have their environmental costs. With the nuke, the cost is obvious: the storage of waste. With others the costs may be more subtle: wind farms will leave the country carpeted with dead bats; solar plants will produce large quantities of hazardous waste.