Get nuclear waste out of Tennessee

June 28, 2011 1:15AM

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s Allyn Milojevich proposes a solution to the holdup of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, and shows how the holdup impacts Tennesseans. This article originally appeared in the Tennessean. by Allyn Milojevich Nearly 1,500 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste are being held in temporary storage pools at nuclear power plants across Tennessee. According to federal law, Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is the nation’s sole long-term, high-level nuclear waste repository. Long-term nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is financed from taxes on electricity generated by nuclear power plants. Tennessee ratepayers alone have contributed more than $505 million to this fund. Despite the investment made by utility customers across the nation, President Barack Obama plans to abandon the Yucca Mountain project. Due to the complexity of the process involved, the Government Accountability Office reports that it could take as many as 20 years and billions of dollars to locate another suitable storage site, and even more to fund the site design, licensing process and construction. The House Appropriations Committee has attempted to revitalize the Yucca Mountain project by introducing an energy-spending bill that contains $35 million for Yucca Mountain development. After 29 years of setbacks and bureaucratic stalling, perhaps we ought to shift away from the belief that the federal government is the only way to provide long-term waste storage in a safe, effective manner. I propose that we sell the Yucca Mountain waste repository to a private corporation. In exchange, this company would be required to accept all of the nuclear waste now stored throughout the country and comply with standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. This company would have an incentive to quickly establish a repository. The sooner it deposits the current waste, the sooner it can develop a business model for the newly generated waste. It would also have a strong incentive to safely establish a repository, as denial of a license would threaten its ability to stay in business. Not only does this solution remove all high-level nuclear waste from our states, but the money that Tennesseans (and the other states’ residents) have already invested in the Nuclear Waste Fund could be returned to them in the form of a refund. According to the EPA, nuclear energy produces no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides (though fossil fuel use is associated with uranium mining and transportation). Nuclear power is highly efficient, especially when compared to coal, wind or solar power. To meet our projected electricity demands, policymakers must seriously consider increases in the number of nuclear power plants. Tennessee currently obtains 33.4 percent of its power from nuclear sources. In comparison, France generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear reactors, and there is no reason that Tennessee should not aspire to such high levels. However, nuclear waste is a side effect of this technology that must be addressed. The development of a safe and effective waste repository has already begun in Nevada. The time, money and energy used to develop this repository should not have been in vain. We must not allow nuclear waste to sit idle in backyards throughout the country. Allyn K. Milojevich is a political science graduate student at the University of Tennessee and a research fellow with the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.