Thursday, April 27, 2006

Skull Valley is a Bad Place for Nuclear Waste

I don't really have time to write this post, I really should be working on my paper for FMCAD, but Utah Policy is putting together a blogswarm on this topic. So if I miss tenure because this paper gets swatted into the cheap seats during peer review, then I'll get both a pay raise (by switching to a non-academic research job) and a safe, friendly West Desert. A true win-win situation.

KEUR has the best visual information on where the nuclear waste storage site will be and what it will look like. There are three reasons that nuclear waste should not be stored at Skull Valley.

First, Utah's West Desert is a beautiful place. If you've ever enjoyed the mathematical perfection of a desert sunrise, or you've watched a huge harvest moon rise in the east at exactly the same instant that the sun set in the west, or you've played with your kids on hardpan in the soft diffuse light of a desert sunset then you know what I mean. People who haven't been to the West Desert just don't get that. Storing more of the nation's garbage out there will ruin it a little more and eventually it will be gone. If you look at the KUED map, you can see that the West Desert contains it's fair share of the nation's waste. Let's let someone else have a turn.

Second, the Skull Valley Goshutes information page titled "Storage Problem" clearly states that "Many US nuclear reactors will exhaust reactor storage space by 1998. Without a storage or disposal facility, the viability of many of these plants is seriously in question." Well, 1998 came and went and the US power grid is still up and humming along. So either the Goshutes are using a different calendar than I am, or the 1998 crisis wasn't as bad as we thought itwould be and we don't need Skull Valley as bad as we thought we would. Let's leave the low-level nuclear waste where it is. It's safe to transport and store right? So let's just skip the transport step and just store it.

Third, we should turn it into a giant golf course for foreign tourists. That wasn't my idea, it was Scott Carrier's. Scott's onto something there. Lots of empty space, lots of jobs for local economy. And, the half-life of a biodegradable golf-ball in the West Desert is about 144 days and that's a lot shorter than the half-life of a spent nuclear fuel rod.

There may be other reasons not to store nuclear waste there. If you can think of them, then send them to Pam Schuller over at the BLM.


Dawnawanna said...

This is a low-level radioactive waste (LLRW)? That stuff is not that dangerous, it certainly isn't spent fuel rods. LLRW from power plants is stuff like sludge from the cooling systems, filters that trap radiactive particles from cooling water, and mildly contaminated gloves, clothing, and other supplies. Much more LLRW will be generated as power plants are decommissioned. LLRW also comes from hospitals, research, and industry.

I taught a lecture/lab on this topic last semester. The students were supposed to decide wht criteria should be followed when deciding where to put LLRW. I used the Goshute situation as an example. There was no consensus, they all just sat there and argued.

They did agree on one thing... Not in my backyard.

Mike Jones said...


Yeah, it's a tough one. Doesn't Idaho have a fine nuclear site at INEEL? That's hot, hot stuff there I think. I went to a talk by a robotics guy at INEEL and their typical problem scenario is entering a facilty with an unknown contaminant that is so bad that people can't go in or near it. That's bad stuff.

So if the LLRW isn't that bad, then I vote we just leave it where it is. With coal mines, coal power plants, uranium mines and downwind fallout, I would say that Utah has done its part to feed the nation's energy apetite.

Dawnawanna said...

Yep, INEL has some really nasty stuff. US Ecology is much closer to us and they have some LLRW stuff. I worry more about the other stuff that US Ecology stores than the LLRW. At least radioactive waste eventually decays.

I start my new job next week. Which basically means that I still do the same things to a different protein.

Green Jenni said...


The proposed nuke waste dump is HIGH LEVEL nuke waste (spent fuel rods and more)-- very dangerous-- the stuff they were gonna send to Yucca Mountain.

Anthony Barney said...

Every time I suggest this, people look at me like I've grown a second head...why don't we put the really scary stuff, like what is expected to go into this Skull Valley site (High Level NW) in a rocket and send it packing? We can eliminate several tons of waste with just one rocket. What about the loss of mass from our planet? According to astronomers, the Earth GAINS 1,000,000,000 kilograms (1 billion kg, 1.1 Mtons) EVERY DAY in space dust. So if anything we ought to be lookin for a few more things we can jettison, to keep her weight down, like radical leftist liberals, or even radical right-wing conservatives for that matter. What about the cost? If you use the new Delta IV rocket by Boeing or the new Atlas V rocket by Lockheed Martin, we could shoot about 20,000 lbs (9000 kg) into space for about $140M see cost estimates at'launch%20cost'. The total cost of waste storage for the next 100 years is estimated at $49.3 billion in constant year 2000 dollars (that is $62.6 billion in 2006 dollars)'total%20cost%20of%20nuclear%20waste%20storage' But the study fails to account for costs after 100 years, and as everyone knows, nuclear waste is going to need tending for 1000 year or more. Also, the total value is held constant, as if we could pay the bill now, and then not have to worry about it again for 100 years, the only way for that to be true is to get rid of it, which is what I propose. The study also doe snot take into account all the design costs of the transportation and storage systems, which far outstrips the cost of storage. Nor doe sit take into account the accidental costs of transportation, the DOE expects a certain number of annual accidents during transportation of High Level NW. These numbers are more difficult to pin down. It is also estimated that the upgrade/replacement costs of storage systems will cost $100 million per year in current dollars. So, we can easily extrapolate that the cost of storage is well over $1 billion per year, probably closer to $2 billion/year after you add in transportation costs.

For all the nuclear power plants in the US, the total annual waste production is about 130 tons (this entire article is extremely interesting, he poses a different storage solution, points out that nuclear waste isn't really the big problem). So, for about $1.8 billion per year (arguably equal or cheaper than storage), we can fling our crap into outerspace, at the sun for example if we feel bad polluting the galaxy, the waste would be incinerated and the fallout wouldn't even register on our most sensitive instruments.

Connie said...

Interesting comments . . . the "nuclear waste" that Private Fuel Storage wants to store in Skull Valley is spent nuclear fuel or used nuclear fuel or high level nuclear waste. Under any name, it is not low level.

There is no reason to move it. The spent fuel is safely being stored at the reactor sites!