Sunday, March 8, 2009

The End of Nuclear Power?

The current state of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project is question.  The recent budget that has been proposed by President Obama has cut off almost all of the funding that the waste project has been getting.  This has been part of his campaign commitment to shut down the facility.  However, the project since its inception in the 1980s, has received about $10 billion in funding to make it viable and ready to receive nuclear waste.1  This seems like an absurd amount of money to just waste on something that won’t even be completed when it is needed.  However, the project has been behind on its opening date.  The project could be seen as a waste of money based on the fact that it is beyond its original open date.  This decision could possibly the death blow to nuclear energy because without anywhere to properly dispose of nuclear waste, there will be no incentives to build more nuclear power plants.  It is rational to suspect that this decision could cause numerous nuclear power plants to close because they would cost too much to operate. 

Based on 2007 numbers, it costs a nuclear power plant that generates 1000 WMe about $40 million every 18 months based on the usual refueling cycle.2   It is priced very effectively with traditional electrical sources.  Currently, nuclear energy makes up about 20% of the U.S. energy consumption.  There are many benefits that come from using nuclear energy and they are mostly based on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, electricity produced from nuclear power avoids almost 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 100 million tons of nitrogen oxide, and 300 million tons of sulfur dioxide a year.2  This is where nuclear energy has a step up to traditional energy sources.  This is the main reason why there should be more nuclear power plants built.  However, the cost of disposing of the nuclear waste is high because most of it is done on site.  The funding had been used in order to set up a place to store the waste.  The possible closing of the nuclear waste project will end up costing the nuclear utilities billions of dollars with ways to properly dispose of the waste.1  The main question is does the U.S. government have a moral obligation to properly dispose of the nuclear waste?  I believe that they should because they need to look at protecting the greater good.  The only way to protect the greater good is to find a logical and logistical way to dispose of nuclear waste.  The government passed an act to take care of nuclear waste over 20 years ago.  The fortunate thing is that Obama has said that they will look for alternatives to dispose of nuclear waste, but I have a feeling that the damage to nuclear prospects has been done.  With the current need to reduce emissions, nuclear is an established energy source that has been proven that it can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.




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