Gas Prices (last updated October 25, 2005)U.S. retail gasoline prices have increased dramatically in recent years, with retail gasoline prices increasing from about $1.00 a gallon in January 2002 to $2.20 in April 2005. Prices jumped to $3.04 per gallon in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast states and the oil refineries there, and then declined to $2.56 per gallon by late October.
Prices as of early September 2005 were highs even when inflation is taken into account; gasoline in the 1970s cost around $3 per gallon when adjusted. The following graph was developed from Energy Information Administration data from early August 2005 and does not reflect the post-Katrina price jump.
Sources: Data on historical gas prices is available via the Energy Information Administration on-line here. Inflation-adjusted data is available as an Excel file on-line here.
Oil Supply in the United States (last modified November 15, 2001) Surprisingly, domestic oil production was the source of most of the petroleum used in the United States up until 1994, when imports surpassed production for the first time. Now, about 60 percent of U.S. petroleum comes from overseas, and 20 percent overall comes from Persian Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia.
Oil can be withdrawn from the SPR for sales in the event of a national energy supply shortage or for test sales, and it can be exchanged with oil producers who will replace the supplies either simultaneously or at a later time. Such drawdowns take 15 days from presidential decision to entry into the marketplace, and up to 4.1 million barrels can be withdrawn a day for 90 days; the Reserve reportedly could release oil into the market continuously for nearly a year and a half. There has been only one emergency drawdown of the SPR for the sale of crude oil. In January 1991, as the United States began attacks against Iraq in retaliation for its invasion of Kuwait five months earlier, President Bush ordered the release of crude-oil supplies to help stabilize world oil prices. Ultimately, 17 million barrels were released. Oil has also been released several times as exchanges with private companies. Most recently, in September 2000, President Clinton ordered the release of up to 30 million barrels of crude oil to relieve domestic shortages and stabilize heating costs. This move was criticized by some as a political move to help presidential candidate Al Gore. In any case, any oil released at this time was to be replaced by oil companies a year later when prices were expected to be lower. Sources: The Department of Energy's Strategic Petroleum Reserve website, available here.
Gasoline in other countries is much more expensive than in the United States, largely due to higher taxes that can make up most of the price to consumers. The pre-tax price of gasoline in the United Kingdom and the United States is about the same, but gasoline taxes in the United Kingdom are about 8.8 times as much as in the United States, thus making gasoline 3.3 times as expensive. Similarly, higher taxes in other countries make gasoline much more expensive : France's gasoline taxes are 7.3 times as much as in the United States, Japan's 4.8 times, and Canada's 1.9 times. Such relatively low gasoline prices help explain the growing demand for petroleum in the United States. Demand fell in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has now surpassed that earlier period. At the same time, oil sources have shifted, so that the United States now imports more oil than it produces domestically, increasing the country's reliance on foreign oil even more than before. Now, about 60 percent of U.S. petroleum comes from overseas, and 20 percent overall comes from Persian Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia.
Permanent storage of high-level radioactive waste, Yucca Mountain (last updated July 10, 2002)
Around the United States, high-level radioactive waste is currently stored in 131 temporary storage facilities in 39 states, 10 of which are shutdown reactor sites for which security would otherwise not be required. In all, more than 161 million Americans reside within 75 miles of locations where waste is stored.Under plans begun in the early 1980s, such waste would be moved to a permanent facility in the Death Valley region of Nevada which would be more isolated geographically and geologically than their current storage facilities and which is expected to accept waste for 100 to 300 years and store such waste for 10,000 years. These plans were developed over twenty years of research and cleared major legislative hurdles in 2002. On February 14, 2002, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham formally recommended the deep underground site at Yucca Mountain for development, and President George W. Bush submitted the recommendation to Congress the following day. However, Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn vetoed the recommendation on April 9, but both houses of Congress passed a resolution overruling the veto within a few months of the veto; the House did so on May 8 and the Senate did so on July 9. The State of Nevada had established a legal fund dedicated to stopping the Yucca Mountain project; this fund had $6 million as of mid-March 2002 ($4 million from the state legislature, about $1.5 million from Nevada's cities and counties, and some from private contributors). Now that Congress has overriden Nevada's veto, Energy Secretary Abraham will submit an application to begin construction of the facility. Even if the Yucca Mountain site's application were to be approved immediately, the facility will take years to construct and will probably not be operational until sometime in or after 2010. The federal government began debating what to do about radioactive waste in the 1950s (the first commercial nuclear power plant became operational in 1957). Finally, in 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), which adopted geologic disposal as the United States' long-term strategy for isolating radioactive wastes safely. The NWPA directed the Department of Energy to identify potential sites for the first repository, and that all disposal activities would be funded by a fee on the commercial generation of nuclear power, which goes into the Nuclear Waste Fund. In 1983, the DOE selected nine candidate repository sites: Yucca Mountain in Nevada, two sites in Mississippi, two in Texas, two in Utah, one in Washington, and one in Louisiana. The DOE then began narrowing down the choice from these nine candidates to three and finally to one, but Congress decided in 1987 to direct the DOE to focus solely on its leading candidate, Yucca Mountain. Since then, the DOE has conducted studies confirming that Yucca Mountain would be a suitable repository for nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain is located in the Death Valley region, which is a closed hydrologic basin so that water would drain inwards and not into any rivers or oceans. Yucca Mountain is more than 90 miles from Las Vegas, and thus farther away from a major metropolitan center than most nuclear facilities. The facility will be built so that waste can be retrieved, in case alternative methods of disposal become more viable over the next few centuries. Some alternative methods presently include reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and the accelerator transmutation of nuclear wastes (which reduces the amount of long-half-life actinides in spent fuel), but both methods produce high-level radioactive waste as well. Spent nuclear fuel is the byproduct of producing electricity from nuclear power. Nuclear fuel generally consists of small pellets of enriched uranium, which are packed into tubes that are then bundled together to form nuclear fuel assemblies. These assemblies are then placed inside a nuclear reactor where the nuclear fission process takes placed, which produces heat that is used to generate electricity. Fuel assemblies are used for about 18 months before they no longer produce enough heat energy to sustain a nuclear reaction. But because they still emit radiation, such spent fuel assemblies must be isolated for thousands of years until the radiation decreases to acceptable levels found in nature. Spent fuel assemblies are initially stored at the reactor site in specially treated water pools lined with concrete and steel; the water cools the spent fuel and shields workers from radiation. Assemblies are then sometimes stored in dry storage systems, such as casks made of heavy concrete or steel. Civilian nuclear reactions had produced more than 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel by 1999, and the total inventory is expected to reach 62,000 metric tons by 2010. Almost by definition, spent nuclear fuel and other kinds of radioactive waste would not be useful for terrorists seeking to build a nuclear explosive device, since such materials can no longer produce fissile reactions. Still, such materials do produce radiation and heat, and thus are dangerous to public health unless properly stored and disposed of. Even if the fuel assemblies were not spent, commercial reactors use low-enriched uranium, which is composed of only 3 to 5 percent uranium-235, the fissionable isotope used in nuclear reactors or weapons; the uranium from fuel assemblies would have to concentrated to more than 90 percent uranium-235 to be weapons-grade material. Any terrorist seeking to build a nuclear device thus would be better off targeting Russian stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, which US-Russian cooperative efforts are trying to reduce (for more, go here). For more on how such waste would be transported to Yucca Mountain, go here. .
Around the United States, high-level radioactive waste such as spent nuclear fuel as well as waste from the production of nuclear weapons is currently stored in 131 temporary storage facilities in 39 states. In all, more than 161 million Americans reside within 75 miles of locations where waste is stored. If a proposed permanent facility is built at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, waste would be transported there .
Transportation of nuclear waste is strictly regulated, both as to how spent fuel is packed and how it is taken from one point to another.As for packaging, spent nuclear fuel is shipped in containers or casks that shield and contain radioactivity and dissipate the heat. These casks are extremely durable; they must be able to withstand a free drop equivalent to hitting a hard surface at 120 miles per hour, a sharp puncture impact, a fire at 1475 degrees Fahrenheit, and immersion in deep water without a breach. A cask is pictured below:
As for transportation itself, the Department of Energy provides formal notification of the shipment of high-level radioactive materials to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Transportation, and to the governors of all states through which the material is transported. All routes are surveyed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and are limited to specific interstate highways, and all shipments are tracked by the satellite-based automated system TRANSCOM and involve check-ins every two hours. In addition, the Price-Anderson Act provides up to $9.43 billion to cover claims arising from accidents in which radioactive materials were released. The Department of Transportation also requires motor carriers to have at least $5 million in private insurance coverage that would be made available in the event of other accidents. Spent nuclear fuel would be of little use to any terrorists who sought to build an explosive device since, by definition, the fissile activity in the fuel has depleted enough that it cannot provide the basis for a fissile explosion. Even if the fuel assemblies were not spent, commercial reactors use low-enriched uranium, which is composed of only 3 to 5 percent uranium-235, the fissionable isotope used in nuclear reactors or weapons; the uranium from fuel assemblies would have to concentrated to more than 90 percent uranium-235 to be weapons-grade material. Any terrorist seeking to build a nuclear device thus would be better off targeting Russian stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, which US-Russian cooperative efforts are trying to reduce (for more, go here). Nonetheless, terrorists could still accomplish other goals with an incident involving spent nuclear fuel, such as causing a radiological incident or embarrassing a government.