Development of a federal repository for high-level nuclear waste has not been easy. Highly radioactive irradiated fuel assemblies do not rest in benign repose. They must be remotely monitored and controlled. Without shielding, an individual three feet from a newly discharged fuel assembly could receive a fatal radiation dose within ten seconds. Nuclear critics ask, "What is the cost basis for disposal of nuclear waste?" After 38 years of commercial operation, nuclear proponents still have not resolved the issue. Because the availability of a federal repository is anything but assured, nuclear utilities are being forced to consider on-site Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSIs).
Irradiated fuel assemblies do not rest in benign repose.
A Decommissioning Cost Study for the South Texas Project (STP) has recently become a matter of public record. It includes an estimated cost of $56,018,303.00 to operate an ISFSI for 25 years. This provides an indication of the enormous costs involved in storing radioactive waste into the distant future.
How far into the future? Senator John Glenn states, "High-level nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel, has a half-life of 10,000 years and then must reach another 10 half-lives (i.e. 100,000 years) before it is no longer hazardous to human health."
At the 25 year rate, costs to store STP high-level nuclear waste for 100,000 years will be $224,073,212,000.00. Most of the other 107 commercial nuclear power reactors in the US are smaller than those at STP. Although they produce fewer irradiated fuel assemblies, the total costs to store high-level radioactive waste will be astronomical, probably exceeding ten trillion dollars. Where will this money come from? The U.S. Dept of Energy (DOE) assesses nuclear utilities at a rate of 1 mill per kilowatt-hour produced. STP, operating at 100% capacity (both reactors for 40 years), would pay $876,000,000.00. The intent is to invest these funds at a rate that provides accrued interest sufficient to cover waste disposal costs. Hence, the financial plan that covers transportation and storage of high-level radioactive waste for thousands of years depends on the following:
- Management of collected funds by a government that is between 4 and 5-trillion dollars in debt;
- Administration of the plan by the DOE, which may be disbanded to help balance the federal budget;
- Government and monetary systems that are stable for millennia;
- Interest-paying borrowers for millennia;
- Resolution of problems with transportation methods and routes; and,
- Resolution of problems with a permanent high-level nuclear waste repository.
As it stands, the consequences of 40 years of STP nuclear activities will be there for our kids, and their kids, and their kids, and their kids, and their kids . . . Enumerating the involved generations in this manner would require 15,000 words.
Now, the Department of Energy and the nuclear industry want to sell nuclear technology (which US utilities are no longer buying) to third-world countries. Part of the deal is to return the waste for 5,000 generations of Americans to handle and store. The legislative and judicial systems may not be prepared to consider the criminal aspects of deferring enormous debts to future generations, but that should not be grounds for declaring the problem to be irrelevant.
One definition of corruption is "impairment of integrity." A plan that lacks integrity has been legitimized to facilitate deferral of nuclear waste liability far enough into the future that those responsible will be long deceased. Corruption legitimized serves the profit motivations of special interests; in this case, special nuclear interests.
The national debt ($18,000 per American) sets a foul precedent. Will we also allow global corporations to defer the genetic and fiscal consequences of their radioactive waste to America's posterity?
This article is reprinted from the Austin American-Statesman with the author's permission.