Persistent delays at Yucca Mountain – the Congressionally appointed future home for American nuclear waste – could prove very expensive to taxpayers. Under an agreement between nuclear power utilities and the Department of Energy, firms are charged 1/10th of a cent per kilowatt hour for waste disposal. Yucca Mountain was meant to be open and accepting fuel in 1998.
So far, the delay has cost the American Treasury $342 million in rebates so far, and is projected to cost $11 billion if the facility doesn’t open before 2020. Given the tooth-and-nail resistance from the Nevada government, and the history of lengthy lawsuits in the United States, it’s not impossible that such a delay will occur. Meanwhile, wastes continue to be stored in relatively expensive and high-maintenance cooling ponds and dry storage casks. In the whole mess, consumers lose out twice. The costs for eventual disposal imposed on utilities were passed on to them; as taxpayers, they will also end up paying most of the cost for Yucca Mountain or whatever alternative long-term disposal facility is eventually used.
The situation could be even worse than it seems. Both Clinton and Obama have announced their opposition to the project. Presumably, having one of them win the presidency would return the whole process to the preliminary site selection phase, back where it was thirty years ago. Regardless of one’s position on nuclear power, the need to store the wastes that exist in a safe, economically viable, and long-term way is inescapable. Keeping the waste in a large number of small sites increases both costs and risks.
Canada also lacks a facility for the long-term storage of radioactive wastes.