Nuclear Considerations

With the hottest decade in recorded history just behind us, President Obama didn’t hesitate to set aside $5.4 billion in his 2012 budget to fund research in solar and other renewal energies. “To lead the world in clean energy, we must act now. We can’t afford not to,” noted Energy Secretary Stephen Chu during the recent proposal.

Obama’s 2012 energy plan also included $36 billion, over seven times what’s proposed to go toward solar and renewables, to build six to eight new nuclear power facilities. Nuclear energy is an alternative to fossil fuels that Obama has praised throughout his presidency, but storing the radioactive waste produced by nuclear plants remains a massive problem. Just last week, lawmakers in New York, Connecticut and Vermont announced they are filing suit with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for their decision this past December to extend the time radioactive waste can sit at a nuclear plant from 30 to 60 years. Leaders in these states are concerned that the extension increases the risk of negative environmental and health impacts and will decline property values in nearby communities. Lawmakers in New York are especially worried of the risk posed to New York City from allowing waste to sit at the Indian Point power plant, only 25 miles from Manhattan.

“I am committed to forcing the feds to take the hardest look possible at the risks of long-term, on-site storage, before they allow our communities to become blighted and our families, properties, and businesses threatened by radioactive waste dumps for generations to come,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

For over 35 years, the Department of Energy (DOE) has failed to fulfill it’s obligation to find a permanent storage facility for the radioactive waste produced from the country’s more than 100 nuclear plants. In 2002, construction began to permanently store the country’s nuclear waste under Yucca Mountain, located in the desert of Nevada, 25 miles from Las Vegas. But with deadly radioactive waste having to travel by rail daily throughout the country to the mountain, the risk of a terrorist attack or accident occurring during transport posed a huge risk for many major cities, leaving Obama to dismantle the project in 2009. Taxpayers are now left with a bill in the billions from individual plants suing the DOE for the $750 million a year it costs to store their waste themselves.

Secretary Chu considers on-site storage to be a safe solution for “decades” while he and other members of Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission for America’s Nuclear Future develop an alternative. But Kevin Kamps, a spokesperson for Beyond Nuclear, questions on-site storage’s safety. “The risks are very real. With plants like Indian Point making over $1 million in net profits a day, they can afford to install necessary safe guards like earthen berms and hardened on-site storage (HOSS), he says. But with no regulation from the NRC, which Kamps calls a “rogue agency,” plants like Indian Point in New York are not making the investment.

Kamps continued that nuclear energy, which makes up 11% of our primary energy source, is not worth the risks the waste produces, when we have the “truly clean, renewable options on the table,” which are producing the exact same energy output as nuclear with none of the waste at an equal or lower cost.