Bill Menke's BLOG Page: How many Yucca Mountains?

Yucaa Mounatin Nuclear Waste Repository, Nevada

While Congress has limited the capacity of the as-yet-unopened Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository to 70,000 tons of nuclear waste, I suppose that more waste than that could be stored there. So let's use 100,000 tons as a round figure for the capacity of such a repository.

A typical nuclear reactor generates 25 tons of spent fuel assemblies per year. So the total waste produced from the nation's hundred-odd nuclear power plants is about 2,500 tons per year. At that rate, a repository is filled in 40 years.

But we've been producing waste for decades, and storing it at the power plants, themselves. A 2002 inventory put the stockpile at about 50,000 tons, or half a repository. So, at the current rate of production, Yucca mountain would be filled by 2022. That date's not all that far off.

But will the current rate of production stay constant? Certainly the demand for electricity, from any source, has been increasing by a couple percent per year. And nuclear plants provide only 20% of the nation's electricity.

If we were to move towards an era of both greater use of nuclear power, and greater overall production of power, then we might well be filling up a repository every five to ten years.

That's a lot of repositories!