Mar 7, 2009

Chu retreats from Yucca Mountain

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Republican senators on the energy committee bore down on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a hearing Thursday in Washington.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returned to a topic from the presidential campaign as he interrogated Chu on nuclear power.

Chu’s prepared remarks to the committee on the administration’s plan to gain energy independence, mentioned “nuclear” only once at the end and that reference was omitted in his oral statement.

Instead, he emphasized weatherization and other energy efficiencies, stimulus-related investments in clean energy and job creation through tax credits and grants.

McCain asked if it were true that “nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period.” He referred to earlier reports that the Obama administration planned to reduce funding for the geological repository under construction in Nevada.

Chu began to answer, “We have learned a lot more,” but was interrupted by McCain, who asked, “What is wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?”

“I think we can do a better job,” Chu responded, which led to a series of exchanges about what that meant for the used reactor fuel that is sitting at power plants around the country and what the administration’s intentions were.

“Boy if I were looking to advance a new nuclear facility, these comments from the administration that we are starting the process of finding a better solution would be very concerning,” Sen. Lisa Murkoski, R-Alaska, joined in. “I don’t know what we have done with our nuclear renaissance that Sen. Domenici worked so hard to advance.”

Chu also encountered doubts from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who wondered what Chu planned to do with the high level nuclear waste that the Energy Department had committed to remove from his state.

“I can tell you this contract is very clear that it has to be moved,” said Risch. “Yucca Mountain not being used is a relatively new thing. When the administration made that decision, somebody must have had some thoughts about where it would go.”

Chu’s position was that he intended to study short-term storage alternatives and recycling technologies that would reduce the risk of proliferation.

“I want to seek the advice of some deeply knowledgeable people,” Chu said.

Committee chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced Chu during deliberations on an energy authorization bill. A second panel included a group of energy experts, who provided suggestions on the authorization bill the committee is drafting.

Bingaman followed up with Chu on a question that has not been put to rest, about whether the nuclear mission under the National Nuclear Security Administration and the scientific mission at the nuclear weapons labs should be separated.

The notion was floated earlier this year in a memo from the Office of Management and Budget to DOE, suggesting that the Defense Department might be a better home for nuclear weapons programs.

A newly released study by the Stimson Center, “Leveraging Science for Security: A Strategy for the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories in the 21st Century,” offers a another version of spinning nuclear weapons work out of DOE and into an independent Agency for National Security.

Affirming the traditional view within the complex, Chu emphasized the scientific basis for stockpile stewardship.

“Anything that threatens the science-based component of those labs, I would be very much opposed to,” Chu said.

The hearing was webcast and archived by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.


Anonymous said...

“I don’t know what we have done with our nuclear renaissance that Sen. Domenici worked so hard to advance.”

Who's Senator Domenici?

Anonymous said...

What, exactly, does Dr. Chu think he is suppose to be doing as head of the DOE? Maybe a scientist wasn't the best pick for this job.

Anonymous said...

“Anything that threatens the science-based component of those labs, I would be very much opposed to,” Chu said. (News)

So, then, you really *DON'T* want these weapon labs being run by NNSA, Dr. Chu!!! This guy really doesn't seem to "get it".

Anonymous said...

Chu began to answer, “We have learned a lot more,” but was interrupted by McCain, who asked, “What is wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?”

“I think we can do a better job,” Chu responded.

A better job? There is nothing wrong with Yucca Mountain. It's just that Dr. Chu doesn't have the conjones to say that to the Senator or to Obama. He's a light weight.

This guy Chu is not going to shake up anything within the broken world over at DOE. Billions have been spent on developing Yucca Mountain, and now DOE wants to let all of this effort and money go to waste?

Tell me, again, why having a Noble scientist is such a grand idea as the head of DOE?

Anonymous said...

I guess LANL can forget about seeing any new money coming into the lab for GNEP or other research into a US nuclear power renaissance.

It's gonna be weapons budgets going into reverse and clenanup ops, but not much more than that.

Anonymous said...

Alright! A sliver of progress.

Belive what you will but, I believe what people on this Blog have to say about this & related issues is important & makes a difference.

Dr. Chu is beginning to look about as naive as Secretary Geithner.

However, Obama & Reid are the primary obstacles to Yucca Mtn. approval.

Anonymous said...

Earlier I read (the .pdf) Dr. Chu's opening remarks to the Committee & noted his very sparse mention of nuclear engergy.

Until this latest feedback I did not realize he eliminated any reference at all.

Kind of sad that he feels the need to be deceptive at this early stage of his appointment.

Anonymous said...

Yucca Mountain isn´t dead, it´s irrationally put on further hold by the Obama administration, due to their opposition of anything nuclear, whether it´s nukes, nuclear power, nuclear reprocessing, and nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, and as a consequence is supporting the fear of anything nuclear within the general public, and making it harder, e.g. more expensive for the nuclear industry in US to go beyond its 104 nuclear reactors, and its ≈20% of the electric power that comes from nuclear reactors in US.

Finally, by comparison, in France nuclear power is ≈80% of the electric power, e.g. ≈4 times more than in US.

PS: The tactics of the Obama administration: Delay, delay, delay anything nuclear, e.g. make it more costly, and less acceptable. A bad tactic indeed.

PPS: has the transcript of the argument between Sen. John McCain and Dr. Steven Chu on Yucca Mountain in the Senate, March 5, 2009.

Anonymous said...

LOL...after watching the Committee Hearing I'm stunned at their lack of understanding of the subject.

In addition to term limits, we need a competence exam for these people.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry our energy problems will work out in the end because we are doing the "right thing". That's the way the universe works -- at least in the movies.

Anonymous said...

I am, so far, utterly disappointed with the way Chu has consistently retreated into his "Hey, don't ask me, I'm just a scientist" stance. You mean to tell me that someone who's been at the helm of a major DOE National Laboratory doesn't know the first thing about how policy and appropriations are made? How disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

So, without Yucca Mountain, where are we suppose to bury all of our stuff? Mikey's backyard?

Anonymous said...

They should use the exploratory tunnel at Yucca Mountain as a bank vault to stash all the stimulus money that was given to Wall Street executives and bank CEOs.

Anonymous said...

Chu: The interim storage of waste – the solidification of waste – is something we can do today. The NRC has said that it can be done safely.

Then why so shy about nuclear energy's role Dr. Chu?

Lets get on with building more nuclear power plants.

No wonder he was picked to run DOE...he's a perfect fit.

Anonymous said...

Alright! A sliver of progress.
3/7/09 1:16 PM

What the hell was I thinking. It must have been the 2nd botttle of wine.

After reading & listening to Dr. Chu's exchange with McCain all this is but a lost cause.

Lets just dedicate ourselves to the "Funny, or Pathetic" COTW :(

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu's "Vision" for DOE Labs:


This ought to challenge our best & brightest!

Anonymous said...

Weatherization was not taken into account in the B-61 and W-76 LEPs. Both warheads, and all others, need to be weatherized. There also appears to be a requirement for an RRW-W (Reliable Replacement Warhead-Weatherized) because of a perceived weather gap with the Russians. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction, Dr. Chu. We will get right on that.

Anonymous said...

Idaho is has a large inventory of spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive waste waiting to go to Yucca. Harry Reid and Steven Chu don't know it, but there are a lot of really pissed off people in in Idaho who are once agains stuck with Uncle Sam's mess.

Anonymous said...

It would appear that Chu wants to pick and choose those issues that he will address. I don't think that that kind of cowardice is what we need at cabinet level.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu will be whoever he is. Based on comments from colleagues at LBL, it is not that he is a 'scientist.' It goes more to his method of doing business.

The question seems to be given that he is Secretary of Energy how should commenters on and readers of this blog respond in a way that is more effective than complaining?

Anonymous said...

The decision to cut off funding for Yucca Mountain should come as no surprise considering that during the presidential campaign Obama stated clearly that he was against the project.

However, imo, it does seem disingenuous when Obama states that he wants to achieve energy independence & reduce global warming but apparently without nuclear energy.

Abandonment of the Yucca Mountain is a blow to the nuclear industry, which was hoping to begin work on new reactors for the first time in 30 years.

Secretary Chu’s remarks to John McCain sound strangely irresponsible:

When McCain asked Secretary Chu “What’s wrong with Yucca Mountain", Chu replied “I think we can do a better job”. Yet, he provides no idea as to what that might be or how long it might take.

It's beginning to look like Dr. Chu & DOE are a nice fit.

Anonymous said...

The key words of this administration are "green" and "smart".
So write your grant proposals accordingly ... GO GO GO!!

Anonymous said...

"There also appears to be a requirement for an RRW-W (Reliable Replacement Warhead-Weatherized) because of a perceived weather gap with the Russians."

LOL... hot damn, looks like we got us a new cold war!

Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.

Anonymous said...

"Lets just dedicate ourselves to the 'Funny, or Pathetic' COTW :("

I think we are there already.

Anonymous said...

Steven Chu would make an interesting case study for someone researching the Peter Principle. His clever laboratory application of laser trapping was certainly deserving of the award of the Nobel prize, but that does not qualify him for making the tough decisions that will be needed to free this country from the tyranny of OPEC. Decisions involving extracting energy from uranium and coal to power our industries, for example. So far he has exhibited no inclination to enlist the strength of the labs in the DOE archipeligo to help solve the problem of how to best use these vast natural resources, with minimal environmental consequence. That is the great challenge of the 21st century for this country, and Dr. Chu is shrinking from it. I think he has bitten off more than he can chew.

Anonymous said...

5:45 pm: "I think he has bitten off more than he can chew."

Indeed (and a great pun, by the way). A better metaphor might be that he has surveyed the smorgasbord and has decided what fits his palate best, and will ignore the rest, lest he choke. Some palates are more delicate than others, and Dr. Chu seems all too delicate in his approach to everything. He will be steamrollered in Washington.

Anonymous said...

Chu may not be up to the task of Secretary of Energy. But, unlike most of the other Obama appointees, he has not been caught cheating on his taxes YET!

Anonymous said...

Congressional response to Yucca Mountain funding cut:

"Move along folks - nothing here to see. And, please be quite - we musn't wake America.

Anonymous said...

Newsweek indicates that Obama plans massive cuts in defense related spending over the next few years. This doesn't sound good for NNSA.

Presidential Double-Talk - NEWSWEEK

Uncertainty (too much) and confidence (too little) define this crisis. Investors have surely noted the gap between Obama's rhetoric and his actions.

Mar 16, 2009 Issue, by Robert J. Samuelson

...It would also be "responsible" for Obama to acknowledge the big gamble in his budget. Defense — a.k.a. national security — has long been government's first job. In Obama's budget, defense spending drops from 20 percent of the total in 2008 to 14 percent in 2016, the smallest share since the 1930s. The decline, reflecting large savings from an Iraq troop drawdown, presumes a much safer world. If the world doesn't cooperate, Obama's deficits would grow.

Anonymous said...

It's beginning to look like Dr. Chu plans on fighting to keep NNSA under the DOE domain and then promptly ignoring this massive component of his DOE budget. Get ready for more talk of downsizing and large doses of neglect for the NNSA research labs.

Anonymous said...

Many of the scientists left at LANL seems very worried about their funding given the high FTE rates, account code crack downs, and lack of new funding sources. Most of them are looking for some way to get out from under an increasingly dire situation.

The only safe positions left at LANL seem to be in the areas of management, support or facilities work. I've never seen it look so bleak for science at this lab as it is right now.

Anonymous said...

Chu, a good scientist, but seems to be not a good leader of DoE who needs handle many political issues.

Anyone looks at Ominbus Appropriations Bill 2009? LANL got a good share in it.

Anonymous said...

I’m uncertain as to the real motives of President Obama & Secretary Chu for abandoning Yucca Mountain. However, if it’s truly not acceptable to do the job we should demand an investigation to identify & prosecute the incompetent scientists, managers & politicians that have deceived the taxpayers for 2+ decades & at a cost of $11 billion.

We should demand and investigation into the NRC’s licensing review process responsible for evaluating the science of the Yuccas Mountain repository. After all, it’s become obvious that President Obama & Secretary Chu know more about the inadequacies of Yucca than the responsible organizations & people.

How could all these smart people be so wrong?

Or, could it be as has been said before that the biggest challenges to nuclear waste disposition are societal/political.

Anonymous said...

8:50 am: "Or, could it be as has been said before that the biggest challenges to nuclear waste disposition are societal/political."

Change you can believe in.

Anonymous said...

A conversation with Steven Chu, United States Secretary of Energy, [Monday, March 9, 2009; 35:15]


(Zero words of the NWC by Dr. Chu, despite its ≈2/3 of DOE´s budget, zero words of the closing, e.g. further delay of Yucca Mountain, and continuation of his, e.g. Barack Obama´s weak support for nuclear power.)

Anonymous said...

U.S. to Fund Nuclear Waste Storage Site in Jordan
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The United States agreed last month to build a radioactive waste storage facility in Jordan, marking the continuing advancement of Amman's nuclear pursuits, the Jordanian Embassy announced
The 4,000-square-foot structure will be designed to store materials for the next 50 years under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The site is scheduled for completion this year, according to a Jordanian release.

The bilateral agreement was signed late last month in Washington by representatives of the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Energy Department's Pacific Northwest Nuclear Laboratory. The deal calls for the United States to provide the $370,000 needed for construction (Jordanian Embassy release, March 6).

(In other words, dump it elsewhere. Maybe YM is closer than Jordan.)

Anonymous said...

A conversation with Steven Chu, United States Secretary of Energy, [Monday, March 9, 2009; 35:15]


"Weatherization" seems to be Chu's favorite energy topic.

Now if we can just come up with a use for all that radon gas we're going to trap.

Anonymous said...


"The DOE says this frequent, if low-level, seismic activity does not pose a threat to potential safe nuclear storage some five miles (eight kilometers) under Yucca Mountain. The DOE says on its Yucca Mountain web page (which remains the same as it was pre-President Obama and his Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who both oppose it as a nuke repository) in a posting that's been there since 2003:

"Experience with earthquakes throughout the world has shown that underground structures can withstand the ground motion generated by earthquakes. And, in actual tests at the Nevada Test Site mine tunnels have withstood ground motion from underground nuclear explosions that are greater than any ground motion anticipated at or near Yucca Mountain. Repository facilities at the surface also can be designed to safely withstand earthquake effects."

In other words, the proposed Yucca Mountain repository could withstand whatever earthquakes Mother Nature might muster – except, perhaps, the shifting of the political ground."

Dr. Chu - Which DOE do we believe?

Anonymous said...

"The DOE says..."


The sound of belief being suspended.

Anonymous said...

"Dr. Chu - Which DOE do we believe?" (9:00 AM)

I'm sorry, but Dr. Chu has decided to recuse himself from this decision.

Anonymous said...

Chu: Nuclear must be part of energy mix – Wash. Post

“Chu said the material can be kept safely "for decades" at reactor sites.”

Fantastic! Now that’s settled there should be nothing in our way for building lots of new nuclear power plants. Full steam ahead.

This gets sillier everytime Chu & Obama speak about nuclear energy.

Anonymous said...

OK, so store the stuff safely at the plants for twenty years or so, then when Harry Reid is dead move it to Yucca Mountain.

Politics, not science, rules!!!


Anonymous said...


WHEN it comes to nuclear energy, settled science appears to count for little with the new Obama administration. This week, ostensibly "pro-nuclear" Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the administration's decision to kill the nuclear-waste-storage site at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert.

Chu said we need to take a "fresh look" and that "we can do a better job." Good luck. The Yucca site had been studied for more than 20 years, undergoing $9.5 billion of tests by some 2,500 of the nation's leading scientists.

Is ignoring nuclear science what President Obama really meant by his inaugural pledge, "We will restore science to its rightful place"?

Change you can believe in - Weatherization.

Anonymous said...

Chu picks university provost as #2.