The idea of turning Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste reprocessing facility, which some Nevadans are proposing, sounds wonderful. It would work like this: Instead of being a place where used nuclear fuel rod assemblies would be stored, Yucca Mountain would become a facility where the radioactive materials from those assemblies would be extracted and shipped off to be reused in nuclear power plants or to run small modular reactors. High-paying jobs would be created, the nation’s thousands of tons of nuclear waste would be dealt with and the environment would be better off for it. If only it were that neat and simple. But the hard facts behind reprocessing show that doing it at Yucca Mountain is almost as scary as storing waste there. Reprocessing involves using acid to extract plutonium and recover unused uranium from irradiated uranium fuel, which results in liquid wastes teeming with radioactive and chemical poisons. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, one of the few places in the U.S. where reprocessing for nuclear weapons production has occurred, is an environmental disaster area where $50 billion in cleanup work has been done and more than $100 billion more is needed to deal with millions of gallons of liquid waste stored in underground tanks. So while the basic idea behind reprocessing may sound like sort of a nuclear version of recycling aluminium cans or plastic bottles, it’s actually not environmentally friendly and is prohibitively costly.
Las Vegas Sun 6th May 2018 read more »