Randi Thompson and the Cobb family want to sell Nevada’s future, trading nuclear waste for a mythical pot of gold. They are starting a group to bring a reprocessing facility to the moribund Yucca Mountain site. This is either amazingly uninformed and naïve or a last-ditch attempt by the commercial nuclear power industry and its allies in Nevada to salvage something from the rapidly sinking nuclear waste dump program. Here are a few reasons:
• If Yucca is unsuitable and unsafe as a repository site (which it is), it is even more unsuitable and dangerous as a reprocessing site. Yucca Mountain and the Nevada Test Site are located in what the U.S. Geologic Survey has designated as a major earthquake zone. Waste reprocessing facilities are the last things you want to locate in areas prone to earthquakes because of the extremely hazardous, toxic and long-lived nature of the materials generated and stored there.
• Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is an extremely water-intensive process, unsuitable for arid, water-starved southern Nevada. It’s no coincidence that nuclear weapons facilities (i.e., operations that rely on reprocessing to obtain weapons grade nuclear materials) were located near abundant water sources (i.e., Hanford, Wash.; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.)
• Even if Yucca were an acceptable site geologically and hydrologically, a reprocessing facility thousands of miles away from the reactors that provide the spent fuel and that would reuse the reprocessed fuel would require tens of thousands of shipments of deadly spent fuel for as long as the facility was in existence. To be feasible, any reprocessing facilities must be located in proximity to reactor locations, primarily in the eastern part of the country.
• Reprocessing, unfortunately, is not yet economically or politically feasible. Bringing spent fuel into Nevada ostensibly to be reprocessed at Yucca Mountain is nothing more than a nuclear industry Trojan horse. Once that waste has been moved out of reactor locations in other states and is in storage in Nevada, there will be absolutely no incentive to do anything with it—certainly not investing billions of dollars in reprocessing technologies that are not economically sustainable and that have serious nuclear proliferation issues (i.e., large amounts of plutonium and other bomb-grade materials that result). Yucca will become a defacto above-ground storage site.
• Reprocessing is far from a “clean” technology. Chemically reprocessing spent fuel results in a highly toxic and very-difficult-to-manage, highly corrosive liquid, highly radioactive waste stream, and vast amounts of lower level nuclear wastes.
Nevadans have fought long and hard to defeat the ill-conceived and dangerous Yucca Mountain nuclear dump project. Why on earth would we now, when that boondoggle is finally on its way to oblivion, want to propose using the site for something that’s even more dangerous and environmentally damaging?