Today the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) will convene in Denver the first of its public meetings since releasing its draft report on US nuclear waste management. The BRC was created in the wake of the Obama Administration’s wise decision to shutter the Yucca Mountain project as a way to hopefully (finally?) figure out what to do with spent fuel in this country. In case you didn’t know, after 60 years of nuclear power, the U.S. still has no permanent storage for the over 65,000 tons of spent fuel sitting around at 70 sites all over the country.
The BRC’s report has some solid recommendations. In particular, they call for a “new, consent-based siting process” for permanent geologic repositories that is transparent, phased, and adaptive and that holds to rigorous science-based standards. If a radioactive waste management program is going to succeed, this approach is certainly more promising than the US government’s previous attempt, which was a complete failure.
Nonetheless, the BRC also recommends some musty ideas that will undermine the long-term goal of finding a permanent repository. The BRC calls for consolidated “interim” storage, an idea that has failed repeatedly in the past. Consolidated “interim” storage will only complicate the immediate spent fuel problem. It will require moving waste from over 70 sites around the country, but won’t address the safety and security threats posed by crowded spent fuel pools, a key problem area identified in the Fukushima crisis. It’s also not clear that it will save taxpayers money to move this waste.
The BRC fails to seriously consider the most sensible, low-cost action for managing these risks: hardening the spent fuel onsite until a permanent repository is found and licensed. This proposal has buy-in from the public (over 170 groups from all 50 states have signed on board).
While the BRC correctly concludes that no foreseeable reprocessing and reactor technologies have the potential to solve or simplify waste management, the draft report still recommends reprocessing RD&D (the third “d” – demonstration is especially premature). Over $100 billion has been spent on reprocessing research worldwide already, with no discernable improvements waste management, cost, or non-proliferation. Deployment of reprocessing and fast reactor technologies would cost taxpayers billions, and would create safety, security, and nonproliferation threats.
The Commission needs to hear from the public about this report. We need to stand up and advocate not only for the good things in the report (geologic disposal) but also good things that need to be in this report, like hardened on-site storage (HOSS), a concept to address the most immediate safety and security threats to waste stored at reactor sites which has buy-in from the public (over 170 groups from all 50 states have signed on board) and would be a sensible, low-cost proposal to address lessons from the Fukushima crisis. The Commission punted this idea for no justifiable reason whatsoever.
Let’s get out to Denver and then to Boston, Atlanta, DC, and Minneapolis and let the BRC know what we think should be done with spent fuel in this country. If you can’t get to any of these meetings in person, engage with the BRC via twitter, facebook, or by virtually participating in the conferences. For more details on PSR’s positions, check out our main points.