Environmental Protection

DOE Panel: Let Communities Volunteer to Host Waste Facilities

A 15-member panel commissioned to recommend a new U.S. strategy for managing spent nuclear fuel delivered its draft report July 29 to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, outlining steps that could solve the vexing question of how spent nuclear fuel is stored. The starting points in the report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future are that Yucca Mountain does not offer sufficient capacity, even if the Obama administration were to let that project proceed, and a new waste management organization should be created outside the Department of Energy to focus solely on managing spent fuel and high-level radioactive wastes.

The commission also said a new, consent-based process for choosing and licensing storage and disposal facilities should be authorized. Citing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and "recent positive outcomes in Finland and Sweden," the report proposes a consent-based approach by which communities would be encouraged to volunteer to host new nuclear waste management facilities, while the waste management organization would also approach communities that meet siting requirements.

"We take no position on the Administration's request to withdraw the [Yucca Mountain] license application," the draft report states. "We simply note that regardless what happens with Yucca Mountain, the U.S. inventory of spent nuclear fuel will soon exceed the amount that can be legally emplaced at this site until a second repository is in operation. So under current law, the United States will need to find a new disposal site even if Yucca Mountain goes forward. We believe the approach set forth here provides the best strategy for assuring continued progress, regardless of the fate of Yucca Mountain."

The commission concluded it is premature to try to reach consensus on whether the United States should commit, as a matter of policy, to "closing" the nuclear fuel cycle, the document states. The panel recommends that the United States take a leadership role in international efforts to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concerns.

Current revenues -- including the Nuclear Waste Fund that is filled by way of a fee collected per kilowatt-hour of nuclear-generated electricity -- are sufficient to pay for the recommended actions, the report says.

"Secretary Chu appreciates the hard work done by the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission and thanks them for a very thoughtful report," acting DOE Press Secretary Damien LaVera said July 29. "The interim report issued today is a strong step toward finding a workable solution to the challenges of the back end of the fuel cycle."

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