What did I do wrong? Or, “What did we do wrong?”

March 9, 2022, 3:01PMANS NewsSteven P. Nesbit

Steven P. Nesbit
president@ans.org

Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do? It happens to most of us on occasion while growing up, especially if we have siblings. It’s not the end of the world, and it teaches a valuable lesson: Life is not fair. Nevertheless, when it happens, it really rankles you.

The “issue” of nuclear waste provides me with instant recall of those unpleasant childhood memories. Commercial nuclear power plants have been managing low-level waste and used nuclear fuel safely and efficiently since the beginning of the nuclear enterprise. Industry is adept at minimizing, packaging, transporting, and disposing of LLW. Used fuel is stored safely and securely at reactor sites, awaiting disposal.

Forty years ago, nuclear power plant operators entered into contracts with the federal government. The deal was simple. The operators would pay the U.S. government a lot of money, and the government would pick up the relatively small amount of used fuel and dispose of it in a geologic repository, beginning in 1998. The money changed hands, but the used fuel never did.

Looking back at 2021—Nuclear News January through March

January 7, 2022, 10:35AMNuclear News

This is the second of five articles to be posted today to look back at the top news stories of 2021 for the nuclear community. The full article, "Looking back at 2021,"was published in the January 2022 issue of Nuclear News.

Quite a year was 2021. In the following stories, we have compiled what we feel are the past year’s top news stories from the January-March time frame—please enjoy this recap from a busy year in the nuclear community.

  • Click here to see the first article in the series.

Becoming agile and innovative in an evolving nuclear landscape: Changing the industry narrative for a strong future

November 29, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear NewsGleb Tsipursky
Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. (Photo: PG&E)

Last April, Entergy had to close its Indian Point nuclear plant. That’s despite the plant’s being recognized as one of the best-run U.S. nuclear plants. That’s also despite its 20-year license extension process having been nearly completed, with full support from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This closure was due in large part to opposition by antinuclear environmental groups. These groups also mobilized existing negative public opinion on nuclear energy to get politicians to oppose the plant’s license extension. Another factor is unfair market conditions. Nuclear energy doesn’t get due government support—unlike solar, wind, and hydro—despite delivering clean, zero-emissions energy.

Decommissioning San Onofre

November 5, 2021, 3:37PMNuclear NewsJohn Dobken

Imagine it’s January 1998. A specially equipped train from the Department of Energy rolls up to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to pick up spent nuclear fuel and take it to the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. This scene is repeated thousands of times at nuclear plant sites across the U.S. over the ensuing decades. The solution to permanent spent fuel disposal as outlined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (and its amendments) is working as intended. The nation’s commercial spent fuel is safely isolated deep underground for the long term.

But that is not what happened. Work on Yucca Mountain has been stalled for a full decade, and the organization within the DOE that by law is responsible for managing the spent fuel program has been defunded and disbanded.

Granholm eyes federal assistance for at-risk reactors

May 10, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Granholm

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told lawmakers that she is open to offering federal subsidies to prop up struggling nuclear plants. Granholm spoke during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, called to discuss the Biden administration’s proposal for the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

What she said: “The DOE has not historically subsidized plants, but I think this is a moment to consider—and perhaps it is in the American Jobs Plan or somewhere—to make sure that we keep the current fleet active,” Granholm said on May 6, according to E&E News.

Granholm confirmed as new DOE head

February 25, 2021, 2:47PMNuclear News

Granholm

The Senate earlier today confirmed Jennifer Granholm as the nation’s 16th secretary of energy. The final tally was 64–35, with several Republicans joining Democrats in support of the former Michigan governor. Granholm becomes the second woman (after the Clinton administration’s Hazel O’Leary) to hold the post.

Picked to helm the Department of Energy last December by then president-elect Biden, Granholm testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 27, and on February 3, the committee voted 13–4 to advance her nomination.

Energy Secretary nominee Granholm comments on Yucca Mountain

January 28, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News

Granholm. Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Jennifer Granholm, President Joe Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, told a Congressional panel that the administration disapproves of Yucca Mountain as the country’s nuclear waste repository, preferring a consent-based strategy as proposed by President Barack Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

“The administration opposes the use of Yucca Mountain for the storage of nuclear waste,” Granholm told Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.), during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 27.

Granholm, a Democrat, served two terms as Michigan governor from 2003 to 2011. According to reports, Granholm was twice considered a candidate to be energy secretary under President Obama, but ultimately was not picked.

Texas congressman weighs in on Yucca Mountain

December 14, 2020, 12:12PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Burgess

The U.S. Congress has failed to uphold its promise to fully fund Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, as a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R., Texas) writes in an op-ed article published on December 8 in the Dallas Morning News.

More than three decades after passing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress has yet to fully fund the Yucca Mountain Project. Burgess points out that while some countries have found success with reprocessing spent fuels, the fission process will always produce some amount of material that must be safely disposed, making it necessary to find a permanent solution.

Nevada senators reiterate opposition to Yucca Mountain

November 11, 2020, 12:00PMNuclear News

Cortez Masto

Rosen

U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D., Nev.) sent a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) to reiterate their annual request that zero funds be appropriated to support licensing activities for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in fiscal year 2021.

Earlier this year, Cortez Masto along with a majority of Nevada’s congressional delegation, including Rosen, reintroduced the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act. The bill would require the secretary of energy to obtain the consent of affected state and local governments, as well as tribal leaders, before making expenditures from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository.

Yucca Mountain is not dead, Shimkus says

October 26, 2020, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Shimkus

For more than two decades, one of the country’s biggest champions of the Yucca Mountain Project has been Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.), who is retiring from Congress this year. Shimkus spoke with E&E News about how he is not ready to give up on the Nevada repository in an article posted to the energy and environment news organization’s website on October 20.

“It’s never dead,” Shimkus said. “It’s the law of the land."

NRC approves Yucca Mountain roadmap

October 14, 2020, 12:03PMRadwaste Solutions

Yucca Mountain in Neveda.

The commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-2 in favor of a recommendation by agency staff to produce a knowledge management “roadmap” for the suspended Yucca Mountain license review. According to NRC staff, the roadmap, which would focus on the regulatory and technical bases of the NRC’s review of the proposed high-level waste repository, would assist staff in resuming licensing work should Congress appropriate funds to do so. The NRC staff said that the document would be completed within a year.

The staff proposes to use $164,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) to develop the document. The staff’s proposal, along with the voting records of the NRC commissioners, was posted to the NRC’s ADAMS website on October 9.

What does the Supreme Court have to do with nuclear waste?

October 7, 2020, 10:05AMANS Nuclear CafeSteve Nesbit

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American Nuclear Society.

As if COVID-19 and a rancorous presidential election were not enough, over the next few weeks we will also be dealing with the confirmation of a justice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. What does that have to do with the American Nuclear Society and nuclear technology? Well, nothing directly, but there is an interesting connection between the Supreme Court and a notable case on nuclear waste decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August 2013.

Yucca Mountain? The Bulletin says to look elsewhere

August 28, 2020, 7:15AMAround the Web

Noting that both presidential candidates are opposed to the Yucca Mountain repository project in Nevada, David Klaus writes in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that “it is time for everyone else to accept that Yucca Mountain is finally off the table, and for the United States to begin to seriously consider realistic alternatives for safely managing the more than 80,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel currently sitting at 72 operating and shutdown commercial nuclear reactor sites across the country.”

Surface storage of used nuclear fuel - safe, cost-effective, and flexible

September 16, 2014, 1:30PMANS Nuclear CafeRod Adams

In August 2014, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved NUREG-2157, Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel. That action was the end result of several years worth of detailed analysis of the known and uncertain impacts of storing used nuclear fuel on the earth's surface in licensed and monitored facilities.