From The Week That Was - August 28th, 2004 - by SEPP.
Megatons to MegaWatts

by Gordon Prather

Last week, John Kerry promised that if elected President, Yucca Mountain - the high-level nuclear-waste depository in Nevada, whose initial operation Congress approved back in 2002 -- would not be allowed to open. "Not on my Watch" Kerry said.

The Democrats see Nevada - which went for Bush in 2000 -- as the key to Kerry's election. Apparently most of Nevada's voters do not appreciate the economic benefits that would accrue from the replacement of the mothballed Nevada Nuclear Test Site with a zillion-dollar underground tomb immediately adjacent to it.

Well, Kerry will surely get the votes of the looney Left and the nation's eco-wackos, thereby. But they may live to regret that vote. You see, most of the 'waste to be stored there is not "waste" at all. About 77,000 tons of it would be 'spent' fuel that is far from being 'spent'.

How did such valuable nuclear fuel get classified as nuclear waste? President Jimmy Carter is mostly to blame.

A nuclear fuel element is typically left in a nuclear power reactor for 4 or 5 years. About 3-5 percent of new fuel is 'fissile' and will 'burn'. When the typical fuel element is removed, about two-thirds of its fissile material remains 'unburned'. In the rest of the world, valuable spent fuel is 'recycled'. The remaining fissile material is thereby recovered and incorporated into new fuel elements.

But President Carter - acting at the behest of Greenpeace and the looney Left -- effectively forbade the 'recycling' of US-produced nuclear fuel elements. Carter claimed that recycling would vastly increase the opportunity for terrorists to steal plutonium with which to make nukes.

That's nonsense, of course. No one has ever made a workable nuke with the kind of plutonium that can be recovered from a fuel element that has been in a reactor for 4 or 5 years. Nonsense or not, Carter essentially seized -- without just compensation -- the residual value of the 'spent' fuel elements owned by all US powerplant operators.

Worse, 'spent fuel' - which the operators were carrying on their books as an asset - was instantly transformed into 'nuclear waste', a liability. All electric utilities operating nuclear powerplants were required to begin charging their customers a monthly fee, which was to be handed over to the FedGov, to be held in trust. Currently, the utilities hand over more than $600 million per year.

Using part of that trust fund, the FedGov was to dig a really deep grave somewhere out west (in a state with only a few electoral votes). Once a deep enough grave had been dug, the owners and operators of the nuclear powerplants were to transport - at their own expense, but in a manner dictated by the FedGov -- their 'spent fuel' to it and bury it there. The cost of siting and operating the 'interim nuclear waste depository' was to be borne by consumers of electricity.

After searching for 20 years, the FedGov finally picked Yucca Mountain as the best possible site. It has now been constructed and Congress approved its initial operation last year.

So what if Kerry is elected and he stands in the Yucca Mountain portal, preventing 'spent-fuel' elements from being buried there?

Well, as it happens, for ten years the Russians have been dismantling the nukes they inherited from the Soviet Union that were excess to their needs. They have planned all along to get rid of the weapons-grade plutonium from those dismantled nukes by making plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. In other words, the Russians intend to turn Megatons into MegaWatts.

And, as a result of the US-IAEA-Russia Trilateral Agreement, entered into by President Clinton in 1997, we are committed to pay the Russians to peacefully dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium as MOX.

Once they have used up their excess nuke material, they intend to keep making MOX, using the plutonium contained in 'spent fuel'. The Russians are ready and willing to provide storage - for a fee -- for the world's spent fuel, for later recycling and use in fabricating MOX.

So what happens if President Kerry refuses to allow operation of the zillion-dollar spent-fuel storage facility the owners of spent-fuel have paid for? Without doubt, the spent-fuel owners will sue to recover their zillion dollars and/or seek Congressional authorization to ship their spent-fuel to Russia.

Won't that make Greenpeace and the looney Left happy?

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