by Richard T. Stuebi
My first day working professionally in the energy sector was September 29, 1986. (Why I remember this date so clearly, I can’t say.) On that day, I joined the consulting firm ICF in Washington DC, and as a bit of make-work (until I could get staffed on a significant project), I was asked to investigate when the national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada would be opened. I made a few calls over to the Department of Energy, and the general sense then was that Yucca Mountain would be open for business within 5 years.
Well, nearly 23 years later, we’re still waiting. On the DOE’s current Yucca Mountain webpage, no mention is made of an expected on-line date. A recent projection of Yucca Mountain’s completion date seems to be 2020. (Why it’s 11 years from today, and was only 5 years in the future 23 years ago, is a mystery to me.)
Of course, even 2020 is a dubious guess. Yucca Mountain’s tortured history and future is due to a lot of opposition from a variety of sources. Mainly, that’s been from ardent anti-nuclear voices. Probably the most important of these is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in whose state the facility would be located. Presumably, his stance reflects his voters’ NIMBY concerns. Reid now claims that the Yucca Mountain project is essentially terminated, due to some language insertions in President Obama’s budget.
However, opposition to Yucca Mountain also is increasingly emanating from some pro-nuclear parties. One of the more interesting takes on the daunting issues facing Yucca Mountain is available in a Q&A in the recent Technology Review with Allison MacFarlane.
For certain ideas, their time never comes. Such could well be the case for Yucca Mountain.
Until a better idea for nuclear waste disposal comes along — and more importantly, is adopted — the prospects for a robust rebirth of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S. will inevitably face an uphill battle.
Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.