To those who question what does nuclear energy look like in America, there are 99 currently operating nuclear power reactors. Seven of them will be decommissioned in the next couple of years and the trajectory of nuclear power generation capacity actually will reach near zero by the year 2050. Decommissioning involves, principally, removing the used nuclear fuel from these reactors, moving them into a used fuel pool, and eventually containing them into dry-storage in a form of casks. This spent fuel is considered the most hazardous material on the planet. In the 1950s, when the U.S. government pondered the subject of spent fuel management, a scientist testified before Congress that the toxicity of the used fuel is greater than any industrial material ever produced.
Now resting in numerous water chambers, or fuel pools, across the country are 244,000 assemblies, and trillions of used fuel pellets that contain energy of 23 billion curies, which is 30 times more than that generated by the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Because there is no such thing as a nuclear waste “disposal” , which we humans are great patrons of, now the used fuel is “contained”. Along with the continuous decommissioning of nuclear reactors in America, more voices are heard about securing and safeguarding these potentially catastrophic materials and ensuring that the public accepts any strategies to be implemented.
Take the two decades-long fight to make a national nuclear repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. A bill passed the House with an overwhelming result, which indicates a likely passage in the Senate, forever leaving the Nevadans with the fear and disappointment coming from a lack of security assurances of the repository system, as well as introducing a source of danger onto the very grounds on which they live. This response stands in stark contrast to the high approval ratings of SKB, a Swedish nuclear fuel and waste management company, and their 66 kilometers-long network of underwater repository that is currently under construction.
This revokes the question of why the residents of Yucca Mountain must bear the costs of spent fuel, or nuclear energy. The mountains and the water are symbolic to Native American residents and their religious beliefs. The Atomic Energy Act gives the EPA in-state regulatory authority over nuclear waste. Why does the government want to disregard the local will and pushback, and override a state’s sovereignty as well as people’s right to safely exist in a space, mentally or physically, to address national energy security concern?
The Congress maneuvers this tough situation rather solemnly to protect 121 communities in 39 states with radioactive nuclear waste, by voting to move it into a permanent storage facility, one that should endure forever.