At least they’re consistent

Bob Loux is director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Bob Loux is director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Whatever else one may say about the U.S. Department of Energy’s handling of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump project, you must give DOE credit for being consistent. Consistently wrong and incompetent.

The new group in charge of DOE’s Yucca Mountain program is no exception. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and his hand-picked Acting Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Paul Golan, have managed in a few short months to take an already teetering project and push it off the scientific, political and fiscal abyss.

For years, the Yucca project has been plagued by problems (or more accurately, realities that DOE refuses to face) that have brought the program to a halt. These include Yucca Mountain’s inability to meet health and safety standards, corrosion-prone waste containers, failure to develop and submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, inability of the site to meet hazardous waste regulations, a seriously inept radioactive waste transportation program, conflicts with western states’ water law (i.e., Nevada’s denial of water for Yucca Mountain), serious land use conflicts, risks posed by military aircraft, and many other factors that make Yucca entirely unsuitable and unlicensable.

Golan and Bodman’s solution is to ignore the central problem with Yucca (the fact that the site is inherently unsafe and unsuitable) and attempt to get Congress to bail DOE out by riding roughshod over federal and state health, safety, transportation and environmental requirements. DOE submitted legislation to Congress in early April to do just that.

The Bodman-Golan debacle gets more bizarre. A few months ago, Golan announced that DOE was completely restructuring the Yucca program in an attempt to turn the repository into a “clean” facility. Golan claimed his “Transportation, Aging and Disposal” (TAD) system would simplify the design and operations of a repository by allowing deadly spent fuel and high-level waste to be transported, stored and disposed of in the same canister, without having to handle the waste again once it has been loaded into the TADs at the reactor location. Great idea, except that it was rejected in the 1990s as impractical and too costly.

To make this problem go away, Golan and his team invented a whole new geology for the site by concocting very low water infiltration rates and slow water movement. Great idea, but the science doesn’t support such assumptions.

What these initiatives have in common is a fundamental and fraudulent denial of the simple fact that Yucca Mountain is a wholly unacceptable place to dispose of deadly and long-lived nuclear waste. Bodman’s proposed legislation and Golan’s restructuring plan cover up this fact, continuing a long string of failed DOE initiatives over two decades that have sought to fashion a silk purse out of this Yucca Mountain pig’s ear.