The Department of Energy (DOE) didn’t account for about $25 billion in costs when considering plans to build separate defense and commercial nuclear waste repositories at Yucca Mountain, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office.
The DOE said separate repositories for defense high-level waste (HLW) and commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF) would produce benefits, like increased cost efficiency, public acceptability and security. But the department forgot to account for billions of dollars in additional costs, and did not follow the nuclear industry’s best practices.
“We found that the DOE’s cost-benefit analysis of the two repositories was unreliable because it didn’t account for billions of dollars in significant costs,” reads the GAO report. “We recommended that DOE redo its analysis to comprehensively assess the costs and benefits of having two repositories.”
The GAO also found DOE forgot to quantify some of the benefits, and neglected to mention some predicted benefits of its plan may never materialize. The DOE also did not provide information on how it would meet spending schedules.
“The Obama Administration’s decision to de-commingle defense waste to undercut Yucca Mountain was a political-driven maneuver that was implemented with limited transparency and no formal stakeholder input,” David Blee, executive director of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is no surprise that the GAO has found that the DOE home-cooked a plan that understated billions of dollars in costs and overstated optimistic schedule targets for a defense-only repository.”
On the basis of this information, in 2015 President Barack Obama reversed a 1985 finding and determined that a separate repository for defense waste was required, setting DOE down the path of developing separate repositories.
“The decision to pursue a two-repository approach should be reversed in the absence of any clear cost or schedule benefit and work resumed on a single repository at Yucca Mountain,” Blee continued.
Political opposition from former Nevada Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Obama prevented the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site from opening, leaving nuclear plants without a good place to store spent fuel. Their opposition created legal liabilities for the federal government that could exceed $50 billion.
The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June of 2008, and the project met the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) safety standards in October of 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of one million years.
If Nevada won’t accept storing nuclear waste, the U.S. may end up outsourcing such storage to a proposed multi-national nuclear waste facility in Australia.
Australia’s government is considering building such a facility, which it claims would offer huge economic benefits to southern Australia and would be much more efficient than smaller national waste storage facilities.
The report estimates that building the Australian facility would create 4,500 full-time jobs and operating it would create another 600 full-time jobs.
America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
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