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Speak Up! The BRC needs to hear from you!

Posted by Morgan Pinnell on September 13, 2011

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.


michon@spinningatoms.com said ..

As a former member of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, I can say first hand that the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendation for a "consent-based" process is a wise one. The effort to sell Yucca Mountain in Nevada is a case in point. Another issue that calls for more anaysis is that of language use in the promotion of nuclear sites. Dawn Stover in the "Bulletin" notes that the politics of Yucca Mountain were "scientized." Stover is right on the mark. The "scientification" of Yucca Mountain has produced a language all its own wherein possibilities, probabilities, guesswork are disguised in a language of "sound science," a phrase bounced around the Yucca Mountain debates with perpetual energy. It not the same as politicizing science-- using scientific data to achieve political ends. It is rather a case where many of a pro-Yucca persuasion in the scientific community have "spun" the politics with claims of sound science and deal-clinching evidence.

November 17, 2011
Voices for Safe Energy said ..

Excellent background info in 9 concise chapters re nuclear power, one chapter devoted to cost. Good to bookmark as reference. Free to use and distribute. Everything everyone must know and understand about nuclear power. www.nuclearreader.info

October 2, 2011
Aggie Perilli said ..

What We Know: 1. Ahead of his time, Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. In a speech on his proposed energy policy in 1977, Carter was remarkably prescient: “Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption…and to use permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power, we will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment.” He added: “The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime.” 2. For the last few years, US Representative Rush Holt, a physicist from NJ, has been warning that energy derived from coal, oil, and nuclear power is unsustainable, and a growing health and safety threat. The greatest danger is posed by Iran and others who are using nuclear technology to develop weapons. Safe, far-sighted energy policies Rep. Holt advocates include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions; a substantial investment in clean energies; tax credits for solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, fuel cell, and other sustainable energy technologies; and a Renewable Portfolio Standard to ensure 20 percent of US electricity is produced by renewable sources best suited to each locale’s climate and resources by 2027. 3. Following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan in March, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and nuclear watchdog, reported on the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States in 2010. Predictably, most of our 144 reactors are clustered in the densely populated East, the area directly affected by the August earthquake. We know the North Anna nuclear power plant at the epicenter of the 5.8 earthquake in Virginia was designed to withstand only a 5.9 earthquake. Even without a natural disaster, the Union reported 14 significant events or near-misses at nuclear reactors in 12 states last year! Many of the near-misses “could easily have been avoided,” the Union wrote, if reactor owners had corrected violations identified by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) months, if not years, ago. The Union holds both the NRC and reactor owners responsible for lingering safety and security issues that may be “accidents waiting to happen.” 4. After a thorough examination of the life cycle of nuclear power, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) have opposed this unsustainable and highly subsidized form of energy for decades as “dirty, dangerous, and expensive.” PSR is among 45 groups and individuals nationwide to petition the NRC “to suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until NRC completes a thorough post-Fukushima reactor examination comparable to that after the serious, though less severe, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.” Petitioners have also asked NRC to supplement its investigation with another from an independent commission. 5. In March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down seven of her country’s oldest nuclear reactors and decided to accelerate Germany’s conversion toward clean, renewable energy sources. Italy had already begun to phase out nuclear power after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, a decision that was overturned by the government in 2008. This past June, taking their power back, so to speak, more than 94 percent of Italian voters rejected their government’s plans to resume the use of nuclear power. Instead, Italy is expected to expand its renewable energies such as hydropower, wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal technologies. 6. Presently, Switzerland is also phasing out nuclear power. According to Wikipedia, Austria was the first country to begin a phase-out in 1978, followed by Sweden in 1980, Italy in 1987, Belgium in 1999, and Germany in 2000. Austria and Spain have actually enacted laws which prohibit the construction of new nuclear power plants. As of June 2011, countries completely opposed to nuclear energy include Australia, Greece, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. 7. Proponents of coal, oil, and nuclear power claim it’s impossible to meet the needs of a growing economy without compromising national security or devastating our environment. Yet Norway’s Utsira Island has been living off the grid for two years. One of the world’s first communities to achieve energy self-sufficiency, Utsira uses a combination of wind power and hydrogen fuel not only to produce renewable energy, but to store enough excess to export to the mainland. 8 “We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren,” Carter urged. It’s not too late to create a safer world and a thriving economy through a clean energy policy. As in Italy, it may be up to voters to take the lead. We must phase out coal, oil, and nuclear power and establish clean energy policies without delay. Meanwhile, voters must hold NRC accountable for the strict enforcement of more effective regulations of the energy programs we rely on today. Last year, the President’s Cancer Panel, which includes appointees of George W. Bush, warned that our apathetic approach to regulation is already having far-reaching consequences for our health—and particularly the health of our children. From the blog of www.aggieperilli.com

September 19, 2011

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