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Free «Nuclear Waste Policy Act and Amendments» Essay Sample

Introduction

For almost a period of 40 years since the United states initially started its nuclear waste production, there had been no legislation that had bee enacted to manage this disposal of this waste. The storage of nuclear waste during those times was stored in temporary storage sites despite the knowledge of its potential to dangerously remain radio active for long periods owing to its more than one million years half life. The nuclear act policy only found its enactment in 1982 creating timetable outline the procedure for establishment of underground repository for radioactive waste that was considered as high level by the time it got to the mid 1990's. These would also temporarily store federal waste with civilian nuclear reactors spent fuel being inclusive. With the enactment of this act states government received their authority to veto against decisions by national government to position their waste repository in the vicinity of their boarders. The veto was supposed to stand until both congress housed decided to override it by voting it out. The act also laid out developmental plans to build MRS (more retrievable) facilities by 1985 which would store waste for over 50 years before it was removed for processing or permanent disposal.

The United States DEO (department of energy) was left responsible for the site, construction, operation and closure of a repository in regard to deposing radio active waste of high level in addition to spent nuclear reactors. The setting of public safety and health standards was left to EPA (environmental protection agency) concerning the release of radio active elements from repository. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the United States was left with the responsibility of promulgating regulations that would govern construction, operation as well as closure of repositories (U.S. Department of Energy 2002). Although the federal government was entirely responsible for disposal of nuclear waste, those who owned or generated high levels of radioactive waste materials or spent nuclear fuels were required by the act to pay a disposal fee of such materials.

The billion dollar waste program would receive its funding through the fees that were paid by nuclear generated electricity utilities. The implementation of the act as left to the office of Civilian Radio Active WASTE management which was under the United States DEO.  In its provision the act also did not fail to emphasize the important state and public participation. The reason behind this broad type of participation that was inclusive of other sovereigns was that the location of repositories was expected to raise a lot of controversies. The whole statue that was involved in the whole site selection process hence included the president, states, the secretary for energy, Congress, Native American tribes as well as the general public (U.S. Department of Energy 2002).

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The reason that makes nuclear waste a big problem is that its radioactivity has the capability to last for thousands of years hence there is need for it to be contained to prevent it from posing significant risks to the environment or significantly human health. Nuclear waste owes its generation from many sources. These include milling and mining processes, while the largest source constitutes radio active materials that are raised fro the generation of electricity commercially through the use of nuclear reactors which end up resulting to thousands of tons of nuclear fuel that is spent. This is added the many thousand tones of nuclear waste produced through military activities.

The biggest problem that now arises is that temporary storage facilities in most commercial nuclear power plants locations are filled up and hence require to be expanded until a more permanent site for nuclear waste disposal can be completed. The NWPA require the U.S. Department of Energy to safely dispose this waste with methods that are environmentally acceptable in geologic formations. This is intended to burry such kind of waste in underground disposal sites. The hunt for such kind of disposal sites began back in 1950 by the National Academy of Sciences. Preliminary screenings came up with four regions that are potentially promising in either bedded salt mines or salt domes. These salt formations provide safe spaces for storage of nuclear waste since they restrict water flow which can potentially spread radioactivity (Bosselman 2002).

Amendments

In the year 1983 the DEO had located nine potential repository sites in nine states. On the basis of the studies that were conducted initially, the president gave his approval on three site which included; Defsmith Country in Texas; Hannaford in Washington and Yucca Mountain in Nevada.  In the year 1987 the amendment of the Nuclear Waste Policy was passed by the Congress with direction to DOE to conduct studies on Yucca Mountain only. The amendment repealed the 1982 provisions of the Law suggesting to have another repository site in the eastern part of the United States. Nevadans did not participate in the reconciliation conference that was held on the House Senate (Bosselman 2002).

In the month of December 1987 an amendment was made on the Nuclear Waste Policy Act by the Congress designating Nevadan Yucca Mountain as the most preferable site for the location of the permanent repository for all the nuclear waste that the nation produced. The plan was even included in the reconciliation bill of the 1988 fiscal budget which was signed in the 22nd of December 1987. Years of study and procedures to be followed though remained.  This amendment also gave authority over establishment of a monitored retrievable facility for storage but this could not be achieved until the licensing of repository site that was permanent.

In the year 2002 the energy secretary gave his recommendations on Yucca Mountain to be made the only nuclear waste repository site which was immediately approved by President Bush. Nevada however exercised its veto powers in the month of April the same year but this veto was overridden by both congress houses by the time it got to mid July the same year. In the year 2004, The Court of Appeals of the Columbian District Circuit in the United States upheld the Nevadan challenge. They gave the ruling that the 10,000 years compliance period of EPA'S radio active waste isolation was nevertheless consistent with recommendations by NAS (National Academy of Sciences) in addition to its being too short (Bosselman 2002).

The report by NAS had recommended that the standards should be set on the basis of risk peak time which had the probability of approaching a one million years period. By the limitation of the compliance period to 10,00 years, EPA failed to respect the statutory requirement which required that it develop standard that were consistent with the recommendations of NAS. EPA eventually made revisions to these standards extending the period to a million years. In the summer of 2008, there was a submission of a license application which NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was left to review.

In the year 2010 under the Obama administration, the U.S Federal Budget had rejected the use of the site eliminating all the proposed funding only that it had to answer to the Nuclear Regulatory Committee enquiries (Hebert 2009). This was while the Obama administration looks for an alternative strategy that would solve the problem of nuclear disposal. NWPA however still remains as the federal law which is not a presidential project hence neither the energy secretary nor the president can cancel it. Earlier on, on the 5th of March 2009 the secretary for energy had said in a senate hearing that Yucca Mountain was no longer considered as a repository for storage of nuclear waste reactor option. In the 2010 fiscal budget of the United States which was released on the 1st of February, there were no funds allocated to cater for nuclear waste disposal and this was to be so for the next 10 years.

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There was also a requirement proposal for the dissolution of the Office of Civilian Waste Management by NWPA.  Multiple lawsuits have been propose or are being filed since the late February 2010 in various federal courts in the country which strive to contest the legality behind the directions to the DEO by the secretary for energy to withdraw the license that had earlier been applied (Hebert 2009). The ensuing lawsuits had eventually been previously foreseen as a necessity for the enforcement of the NWPA since there is a provision by section 119 of the NWPA for interventions by federal courts if the secretary of energy, The president, of the nuclear regulatory commission failed to uphold the NWPA.

Prerequisites for radioactive waste management/According to Hannes Alfven a holder of the Nobel Laureate in Physics, permanent disposal of nuclear waste still remains in a dilemma that is yet to be resolved. Following the above outlined chronology of events, a problem now arises in regard to keeping radio active waste and materials in storage until it decays entirely which could take a very long period of time. Since the quantities of poison contained in these radio active elements are so tremendous the geologic deposits should hence provide some form of assurance that they are reliable. This is a requirement that is quite hard to satisfy since such no prior experience exists in handling such kind of long-term projects. Moreover, it is only a society which bears an unprecedented stability that can be able to guard the storages.

Hannes came up with two major prerequisites that have to be met for the high level radioactive waste to be effectively managed. These include geological formations that are stable and human institutions that can remain stable for a very long time. However, human civilization is only known to endure for not a very long period of time. In addition to this, no geological formations can be said to be of adequate size to accommodate a permanent waste repository for radio active elements has been discovered to be stable for a very long period of time (U.S. Department of Energy 2002). Since some radioactive species contain half life that can extend even longer that one million years, even containers with radionuclide migration rates as well as those with the slightest leakages must be taken into consideration. More over radio actives materials might require more than a single half life in loosing enough radioactivities for them to be considered harmless to humans.

The Nuclear Waste Policy act had not made any requirements in approaching such kind of standards for deep geologic permanent disposal for high leveled radio active waste. The Unite States energy department guidelines for selection of permanent locations for deep geologic disposal radioactive repositories only made a requirement for radio active waste to be contained with packages of waste for 300 years only. A site would receive disqualification if and only if its ground water time from the disturbed zone of the underground repository to the exposed human environment was to be less than 1,000 years in the path of radionuclide travel. Sites with ground water travel time exceeding 1,000 years from the underground repository location to human environments were potentially acceptable though the waste would eventually be highly radioactive in a period of 200,000 years or even more. Moreover the definition of the term disturbed zone in the regulation excluded the shafts that were to be drilled into these geologic structures from the earth's surface. In this regard, the standards that were applied to pathways of natural geologic were more stringent compared to those applied toward artificial pathways of radionuclide travels that had been created during the facility's construction.

Problems of Nuclear Waste Policy Act

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 for the management of the high level nuclear waste has been faced a lot of challenges therefore proving to be ineffective to some extent. The governing spending on the research of the waste management has been rendered useless as the spending hits billions of dollars. There are several challenges that are basically the short changes to the act as they actually undermining the waste management as far nuclear waste is concerned. The passage of the NWPA was aimed at regulating the disposal of the nuclear waste but since then, the act has faced many challenges including the political interest and other groups interest such as the environmentalist therefore the subsequent legislations have been witnessed, the funding from the government has been on the will and that the government have no clear policy for the funding to the act. Apart from the government underfunding, the act has faced several challenges about its authenticity from the scientist and the scientists therefore paralyzing its implementation completely.

The plan for the enactment of the disposal sites basically scheduled to have commenced   in the year 1997 took a slow a note as the challenges mounted from the legislators and the concerned groups including the environmentalist challenged the findings from the department of energy. The main deposition site; Yucca Mountain has been the center stage of the derail challenge over the act since the act to have the site as the deposit of the waste.  In 1994 the Yucca Mountain faced a shutdown after a challenge over environmental effect then later reopen in the year 2002 after  an amendment that allows the amendment that allows it tot operate was passed. The Yucca Mountain faced another challenge as the government excluded   it from the budget therefore the operations in the site is facing its closure (ENERGY.GOV, 2011). The challenges facing the Yucca Mountain has been broken into for major challenges. The design of the system is facing the challenge of its ability of it managing the waste properly. The overall design challenge such as the efficiency of the system, the challenge is that the system might be operating at efficiency too low for it to be effective as per the Engineering principles. Another challenge is to maintain and upgrade the site so as to comply with the current environmental policy. The cost of the construction on the Yucca Mountain might be too high for it to be considered as the priority for the repository.

The challenge of having the system being administered and subsequent upgrading took more than a decade for the commencement of the determination of the site or rather an alternative for the repository purposes. The department of energy has several delays over the amendment of the act since there are a lot of activities that are underway over the challenge. For instance, The congress have faced the setback several over the passage of the bill allowing the commencement of the activities involving the Yucca Mountain therefore making the task laid on the department of energy impossible therefore a postponement of the commencement. Basically the department of energy entirely depends on the advise from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for commencement of  any activity in the Yucca Mountain but the challenge the  commission is slower in reacting to the recommendation that were offered by the  department(ENERGY.GOV 2011).The time for the implementation of the recommendation of any amendment is long and caused by many delays such as in the quest for the department to sign an agreement with the management of various nuclear energy companies over the contract. The condition of the NEPA is too stiff therefore discouraging any investment on the nuclear energy.

Economic challenge;  After the construction of the repository, the  government is have failed in commencing the use of the plant in receiving the waste from the nuclear plants since its operations have been derailed by the fact that the legislation over the repository have faced challenge from the interest groups. The nuclear plants therefore face the problem of disposing the waste since they have to incur more cost in their operations. The commencement of repository was scheduled for the year 1998 by the commencement date have been postponed hitting a decade later without any hope for the plant companies over the used fuels repository. 

Approximately 104 nuclear plants in the US produce 2,000 tons of the high-level nuclear waste annually with the 100 nuclear plants (ENERGY.GOV, 2011). The Yucca Mountain has the capacity to handle all the accumulated waste but the challenge is the authenticity that has never been provided. The challenge of the Yucca Mountain put on hold the future of the deposition of, the nuclear products therefore creating the future uncertainties over the waste deposition. As far as the technologies are concerned, the quest of the nuclear plant deposits is complex since the operations could be even be challenged therefore making the implementation process even more tedious. The cost of the investment on the act have prove not working since the implementation of the act have been challenged by the interest groups and also the scientist therefore questioning its validity and the ability to contain the problem of the deposition of  the high-level fuel waste. However expensive the process is, there is need for full implementation of the findings that makes the environment safer through a safe repository. There is need to amend the policy in order to tackle the nuclear challenge.

Recommendations

Recycling of the by products

In order to reduce the amount of waste being deposited by the nuclear plants, recycling of the by-products could reduce the amount of waste that is   being deposited every year. There is a possibility of recycling the used Uranium with other byproducts from the nuclear plant. However the nuclear department does not have the incentives for the nuclear plant to do the recycling process since it expensive as compared to the use of the raw material therefore they prefer using the raw materials, an example of the effective recycle plant has been inaugurated in France and have proved to work perfectly therefore providing the platform safer and less pollution on environment. The technology of recycling can be very efficient such that there will be less deposit of the by products as it is actually the main reason for the derailed process of implementation of the NWPA policy in full. Though the blame is being subjected to the government, there is need to critically evaluate the cost repository of the nuclear compared to the process of recycling it.  The findings could be beneficial to the nuclear plants and also to the government in saving the cost burying the waste (Spencer, 2010).

1. Clear Waste Management Strategy

The government has been faced by a challenge over the implementation of the waste management act. The challenge therefore has been certainly harsh to the deposition of the waste therefore the government should be concerned with the management of the resources especially over the failed Yucca Mountain plans. It should look for other alternatives that are friendlier to the environment such as the use of technology. The industry is very radical therefore the government should on high alert so as to respond to any change faster. Some initiative to encourage the cooperation between the private and government researchers is encouraged so as to instigate a stronger waste management method is recommended. The recommendations should be accepted reviewed faster so as to facilitate a faster process of managing the high-level waste whereby it can cause an adverse effect on the environment and subsequently the humans. The reforms should lead to a substantive conclusion whereby the final outcome must solve the problem of nuclear waste so as to avoid elevating the point raised by the critics giving them the platform to stand on and delay the process of solving the nuclear quest (Spencer, 2010).

2. Investing on the Alternatives

Apart from the government as the only solution to the problem in the nuclear sector, the private sector has also proven to be effective in setting standards higher. The waste fuel management should be entrusted to the private sector with government working as an oversight. The private sector will be able to capitalize the storage facility such as the one in the Yucca Mountain therefore discouraging any careless disposal. The move might force the plants to seek alternatives such as recycling. Whenever the storage facility is made limited, there will be tendency to innovate other alternatives.

Basically, the private sector is able to evaluate the nuclear power market and charge the waste management fee as per the deposits that each of the nuclear plants will pay for the amount of deposit contrary to the current waste management policy whereby the government receives the fee prior to the waste deposition. Generally a pricing strategy is required so as to regulate the amount deposits of the nuclear and also burying the waste with the utmost safety. A part from the efficient services offered by the private sector on the nuclear waste management, charging the nuclear plants fee will make the sector independent therefore the issue of underfunding will not raise an issue (Spencer, 2010).

3. Empowering the Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain should be managed separately by a different management so as to tighten the regulation for deposition of the waste materials; the management should be in exemption of the government so as to fast track the implementation of policies concerning the Yucca Mountain waste repository. The government should then take the oversight duty using the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The new management should then be formed under the NRC act so as to enable it comply with the regulations for obtaining the permit. Though the government is being placed in an oversight position in the implementation process, its critical function of maintaining the standards as well as providing enough resources for the realization of the process Moreover it should play a role in advising on the implementation process (ENERGY.GOV, 2011).

Establishing a Nuclear waste management Fund

 The main reason for the slow implementation of the waste management is that the funding of the process is uncertain since it depends on the willingness of the reigning government. The fund should provide a platform whereby the work on the waste management should be consistent despite the government budget.

However the time it takes for the solution for the implementation of the waste management act, there is need for the government to the solid issue and come up with a more precise act that will fasten the waste management. Applying the new technology on the nuclear plant will fast track and also remove the animosity of the disposal of the high-level fuel waste usually highly poisonous if managed poorly. Therefore adopting the most secure disposal method will aid in developing the best concrete energy that is environmentally friendly (Spencer, 2010).

   

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