Every major Democratic presidential candidate opposes the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. We’ll hear all about it soon: a senate hearing on the issue is scheduled for October 31.
This is just a high-profile manifestation of a situation that has the U.S. nuclear industry a bit nervous these days. The nuclear renaissance, proclaimed as a done deal by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Dale Klein earlier this month, is suddenly looking iffy. Funding for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) took a hit in a House appropriations committee bill last June. Two of the industry’s strongest congressional supporters—Senator Pete Domenici and Rep. David Hobson—have announced they are retiring. The 2008 election prospects generally don’t look good for congressional Republicans, who have traditionally supported the atom. In sixteen months, George Bush, the industry’s staunchest presidential champion since the 1970s, will no longer be president. His successor could well be one of the anti-Yucca Democrats.
Meanwhile, spent fuel waste piles up at U.S. reactor sites, to the point where utilities are suing the Department of Energy for not having a permanent repository available. DOE is set to re-apply for the Yucca Mountain license; this will surely come up at the October 31 senate hearing.
Will this jeopardize any of the reactor life extension applications going to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? It’s scary to think that it could.
But there’s always climate change. Democrats could find a way to support nuclear if they were made aware of the sheer size of the emission reductions that are possible when nuclear plays a significant role in the power generation sector. As I have pointed out in this blog, Ontario is the most dramatic current example of this. Power sector emissions in this province were 15 million tonnes lower in 2006 than in 2003 (see article).
Other power systems could and should follow our example.