- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

According to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, allowing Yucca Mountain known to the cognoscenti as the Jimmy Carter Waste-of-Fuel Dump to open for business in 2010 will make all you SUV-driving soccer moms vulnerable to being run over by a "mobile Chernobyl."
Why call it a waste-of-fuel dump? Well, it turns out that the tens of thousands of tons of nuclear "waste" that are to be trucked to Yucca Mountain is not waste at all. It's good, slightly spent, nuclear fuel.
You see, when a fuel element is removed from a light-water reactor, it is far from being "spent." It still contains at least two-thirds of its original zoop, which is uranium 235, plutonium 239, or a mixture of the two. More importantly, only about 4 percent of its zoop potential has been realized.
If that's the case, why take it out? Why not leave it in the reactor until it has run out of zoop? Well, the explanation is a bit technical, but here goes.
Most of our nuclear power plants are designed to run on fuel that is about 3 percent zoop. The other 97 percent of the fuel element is uranium 238, which is fertile but not fissile. Fissile stuff will "burn," but fertile stuff won't.
When the fuel element is removed, it has burned two-thirds of the original uranium zoop. But, in the process of burning, almost as much plutonium zoop is produced from the fertile uranium 238 as is burned. Hence, the total amount of zoop in the burning fuel decreases very slowly over the years. When the total zoop gets down to about 2 percent, the fuel element is removed.
In a breeder reactor, many times more plutonium zoop is produced than is consumed.
Yahoo. All we have to do in order to have unlimited, pollution-free electrical energy for the next several centuries is to (a) chemically process the fuel elements we take out of our light-water and breeder reactors, (b) recover the uranium and plutonium, (c) make new fuel elements containing the proper ratio of zoop to fertile materials, (d) put the new fuel elements back in the reactor and (e) hit the start button.
That is exactly what the rest of the world has been doing on a small scale for the past 20 years. Some of their new fuel contains both uranium and plutonium zoop, and is calledMOX (mixed-oxide) fuel. Now, it looks like we're about to help the Russians implement the MOX cycle on a huge scale.
President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin just announced that, in order to prevent nuke proliferation, the group of industrialized nations is going to help the Russians get rid of their excess nuke-useable plutonium and uranium stocks by blending them down under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency to make reactor fuel. That is, turn nukesinto MOX.
When the nuke materials are all gone, what then? You guessed it; the Russians start making MOX from spent fuel. Even though we'll be funding the MOX cycle, we can't participate. You see, President Carter not only killed our plutonium-producing breeder reactor programs, he also decreed that the plutonium remaining in light-water reactor spent fuelcould never be recovered.
Mr. Carter apparently had a thing about plutonium.
So, thanks to Mr.Carter's edicts, once removed from the reactor, our valuable spent fuel has to be treated as "waste." A liability, not an asset. To be transported to the Valley of the Dead in Nevada and entombed, like pharaohs, for the next 10,000 years.
Which brings us back to Nevada's Mr. Reid. He probably isn't really worried about you soccer moms getting run over by a mobile Chernobyl. Unless, of course, you're a Nevada soccer mom. He just doesn't want any mobile Chernobyls headed towards Nevada. Oklahoma? That's OK.
Nevertheless, Congress just voted to allow shipments of nuclear waste the spent fuel that has been stacking up for 20 years in the back yards of power plants in 36 states to begin in 2010. Nevada politicos and various eco-wackos have vowed to fight the opening of Yucca Mountain to the death, if need be.
Congress could easily prevent those deaths. Just allow U.S. nuclear power plant operators to ship their spent fuel to Russia rather than Nevada for storage, reprocessing and eventual incorporation into MOX fuel.
Of course, we should give back to the owners of all that spent fuel the billions of dollars they have been forced to ante-up for construction of the Jimmy Carter Waste-of-Fuel Dump in Nevada.

Gordon Prather is a former national-security adviser with several federal agencies, including the Defense Department. He also worked as a nuclear weapons specialist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.


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