Newspaper column: How to make use of those Yucca Mountain tunnels

Obama and Reid tour Nellis AFB solar panel site. (R-J pix)

Sometimes things just naturally come full circle.

For decades Nevada’s former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid constantly pounded on two themes: Blocking nuclear waste from being stored in Yucca Mountain in Nye County and pressing for more and more solar panels to be thrown up on thousands of acres of public land and on rooftops across the state.

When Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole nuclear waste dump in 1987, Reid said two things, no and hell no. As he rose in seniority in the Democratic Party to become Senate majority leader, he finally found the power to make those words stick and steadily turned down the funding spigot for the project until President Obama shut it down entirely.

As he neared retirement, Reid declared Yucca Mountain dead, though President Trump and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry have been trying to breathe life back into it.

Meanwhile, Reid campaigned vigorously for green energy, bragging about his role in the state investing $6 billion in green energy and creating 20,000 jobs. The projects include sites such as the 3,000-acre Copper Mountain Solar project outside Boulder City and the 15-megawatt solar panel installation on Nellis Air Force Base.

Almost every year at his long-running green energy conference in Las Vegas, Reid would drag out some dignitary from the base to repeat the boast that the project was saving taxpayers $1 million a year in power costs — without ever bothering to mention the panels cost $100 million in 2007 and would reach obsolescence in 25 years and need to be disposed of.

Which brings us to the closing of the circle.

An alert reader recently brought to our attention a report from a Berkeley-based group called Environmental Progress. It seems that when you do the math, solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy output than nuclear power plants.

This prompted our alert reader to suggest it is time to contemplate the Yucca Mountain Solar Panel Repository.

“We talk a lot about the dangers of nuclear waste, but that waste is carefully monitored, regulated, and disposed of,” Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, an advocate for nuclear energy, told the National Review. “But we had no idea there would be so many panels — an enormous amount — that could cause this much ecological damage.”

The Environmental Progress report states, “If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).”

Those innocent looking solar panels contain elements such as lead, chromium and cadmium — known carcinogens. The panels are difficult and expensive to recycle. The process is labor intensive and the price of the resulting scrap material is low, according to the National Review. (Never mind the toxic waste created during the manufacturing process.)

But, since they are already imbedded in glass and plastic and would not necessarily have to be protected by water shields like nuclear waste canisters if they were buried in those miles of tunnels at Yucca Mountain, it seems like a solution to the problem of what do with that $15 billion project sitting idle in the desert. The main problem is that it may not be big enough.

The United States has more than a million solar energy installations, many of which are nearing the end of that 25-year life expectancy, and more are being built, though currently solar produces only about 1.3 percent of the world’s electricity, compared to 10 percent for nuclear power.

As for the nuclear waste, we never thought it a good idea to dump it in a hole in the ground, when it can be recycled, as many countries currently do. It would be rather easy to haul the stuff to the desert at or near Yucca Mountain and store it above ground in dry casks until it can be recycled, possibly on site, which would create a number of high tech jobs.

Don’t you love it when mislaid plans come together?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Yucca Mountain entrance. (ABC pix)

16 comments on “Newspaper column: How to make use of those Yucca Mountain tunnels

  1. Steve says:

    Not just PV panels. so called green cars “EV’s” only shift the pollution created from the operation to manufacturing. These vehicles are actually create more pollution during manufacturing than their traditional counterparts, including those big SUV’s.

    But it gives the owners/operators of those really dirty vehicles a warm fuzzy since they don’t spend money for gas and “think” (if you could call it that) they are doing good stuff for the environment.

    And they love to talk about “renewable” resources when deriding fossil fuels as a limited resource when lithium is a severely limited resource being gobbled up at e4ver increasing rates to make batteries we throw away because it costs a lot more to recycle them than it does to make new ones.
    Those batteries are filling up landfills now.

  2. Bill says:

    Steve, it really doesn’t matter that solar panels are devastating to the environment and are both expensive and inefficient. To the adherents to the clean energy dogma, facts, matter not a whit. While many are serious and thoughtful, still too many others. exhibit an irrational unwilingness to face some of the realities of “clean” energy, while at the same time callinganyone who dares to their dogma the vilest of names.

    Perhaps, we can salvage some of the lithium from the solar panels and batteries since the mineral is used to treat mental illness as well.

  3. deleted says:

    I hear plutonium is good for you too. Leastways that’s what private enterprise told us.


  4. Rincon says:

    Thank you, Thomas, for at least identifying Environmental Progress, the originator of the very suspect report, to be “an advocate for nuclear energy”. Perhaps nuclear industry front group would be more accurate. Any idea where their funding comes from? I can dig up a whole bunch of negative information about the nuclear power industry and positive information about the solar power industry from Greenpeace. Would you be as ready to believe them? It’s called confirmation bias. Look it up, all of you, because you’re floating in it.

    The very obvious flaw is that these guys are comparing “toxic waste” by volume, not toxicity. By the same model, snake venom is far less toxic than a jar of peanuts. Peanuts frequently contain trace amounts of afalatoxin, but are not considered the least bit harmful. The difference in volume is almost certainly in the tailings from rare earth mines. These tailings may not be any more toxic than the tailings from coal mining. I suspect the the tailings from uranium mining are far more toxic. The nuclear fuel waste though, is heavily laced with one of the most toxic substances known.

    I am open to the possibility that the manufacture of solar panels may generate perhaps an unacceptable level of toxic waste, but please refrain from insulting our intelligence by parroting such an obviously biased source.

  5. deleted says:

    American capitalists man. Next thing you know, they be telling us it’s perfectly safe to just dump the most poisonous, dangerous, longest lasting stuff known to man in a big hole, and everything will be fine.

    There’s a sucker born every minute man.

  6. Steve says:

    Nuclear seems to work nicely for France.

    Isn’t Rincon the one who keeps on harping how the USA should “learn” from other countries?

  7. Rincon says:

    Your message is ambiguous, Steve. Can you be more specific?

  8. Rincon says:

    Good night, Steve

  9. Steve says:

    July 17, 2017 at 8:59 am

    is not night

    specificity requests are “ambiguous” and only meant as bait.



  10. Rincon says:

    My 5:45 post was made at 7:45 local. Here in the Midwest, we say good night at that time. Getting a little prickly, aren’t we?

    OK, since you don’t want to be specific, let me work with what little information I have. Your comment about France appears to be irrelevant, but, for what it’s worth: Yes, nuclear (power) has been working well for France . It worked well for Japan just up to March 11, 2011. Then it suddenly did not work well. Do we feel lucky? Of course, it might be a little more palatable if we ever bothered to find some reasonable way of permanently disposing of the waste. In more than a half century, we still procrastinate. We’ve completely failed to address the greatest problem, but Steve appears gung ho to build more. Are you?

    So being afraid to be specific is actually avoiding bait. Hmm…kind of goes along with the “war is peace, ignorance is strength” mantra.

    Speaking of bait, I said good night because communicating with you had become tedious. I guess I’m not so afraid to take the bait. Hard to resist sometimes.

  11. Steve says:

    You don’t want to communicate.
    You want only to debunk everything that doesn’t fit in your nice little propaganda driven worldview.

    Every post makes that abundantly clear.

  12. Rincon says:

    I love you too. Goodbye.

  13. Steve says:

    Rincon, you stand higher odds of dying in a plane crash than you do from a Nuclear power plant accident.
    That is a fact.
    Another fact is Nuclear waste is far less than other “clean” technology. It is also far more deadly if mishandled. This is very proportional.

    Back to France.
    They reprocess their fuel and they get nearly 80% of their domestic electricity from nuclear power.
    They also bury their nuke waste underground, safely.
    Moreover, France nuclear power plants all have the exact same design. All of them are identical and this means any potential problem gets fixed in every plant resulting in a very high level of safety.
    40 years is positive proof, done right.

    And you know this to be true.

    Now, it is you who insist the USA “learn” from other OECD countries when it comes to your little, propaganda driven, world view. But nuclear power simply does not fit with your “politically driven” approach to “discussion” and “communication”.

    This is why I have taken such a negative stance to your responses of late.

  14. Rincon says:

    You say I don’t want to communicate, so that’s that. No point in continuing on.

  15. Steve says:

    Doubling down.

    You proved your intent in several statements.

    You are much more about chasing the messenger rather than the message.

    It irks you when the message and the messenger show you to be off base.

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