Yucca Mountain, a ridge in the desert of southern Nevada and the government’s controversial pick for a nuclear wastebasket, is back in play … kind of.
A federal appeals court ruled this week that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has to keep reviewing a license application for the site, even though Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other critics effectively halted the plans in 2010.
In 1982, Congress approved a plan for the government to build a site to store spent nuclear fuel, in exchange for a stream of regular payments from the outfits running reactors. Yucca Mountain was the chosen spot, but because of strong opposition it has yet to take in any toxic waste. Regardless, even today, nuclear utilities are still paying. Collectively, they’ve contributed about $35 billion to date to a cleanup fund, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group. And though the government is 15 years past its deadline for taking the spent fuel and storing it somewhere, power companies are still paying about $750 million a year.
Which brings us to the second group of stakeholders: people living around nuclear reactors. In lieu of Yucca Mountain, utilities have turned to on-site storage, which is a fancy term for tossing toxic fuel rods into giant pools of water or into casks of cement and steel next to the steam-shrouded domes of reactors. In short, the U.S. doesn’t have one Yucca Mountain, it has dozens of them. Utilities say this is a perfectly safe practice, but it is expensive and it complicates the matter of decommissioning nuclear facilities.
Here are the states with the most spent nuclear fuel lying around, according to NEI:
• Illinois—9,010 tons
• Pennsylvania—6,290 tons
• South Carolina—4,210 tons
• New York—3,720
• North Carolina—3,670 tons
Read more at Why You Maybe Should Care About Yucca Mountain