The head of a federal commission on nuclear waste bluntly warned lawmakers Wednesday that the United States cannot compete with other countries on nuclear power until policymakers establish a site to permanently store spent nuclear fuel.
“Put simply, this nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly,” the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future concluded in a 180-page final report issued Thursday.
ABOUT THE STRATEGY
Key elements of Blue Ribbon Commission nuclear waste strategy:
1. A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.
2. A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
3. Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.
4. Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities.
5. Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.
6. Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.
7. Support for continued U.S. innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.
8. Active U.S. leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concern
In the wake of the crisis, “many Americans became newly aware of the presence of tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel at more than 70 nuclear power plant sites around this country — and of the fact that the United States currently has no physical capacity to do anything with this spent fuel other than to continue to leave it at the sites where it was first generated,” the report said.
Allowing that impasse to continue is not an option, the report continued, “The need for a new strategy is urgent, not just to address these damages and costs but because this generation has a fundamental, ethical obligation to avoid burdening future generations with the entire task of finding a safe, permanent solution for managing hazardous nuclear materials they had no part in creating,” the report said.
The commission — which is co-chaired by former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft — recommends that policymakers use a “consent-based approach” to determining waste storage and disposal sites. Under that approach, states and communities would be given more input on whether they want to house a storage facility.
“The nuclear waste management program is at a real impasse. This is a serious failure of the American government,” Lee Hamilton told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. The top-down approach “forced a solution to a problem, and it hasn’t worked,” Hamilton said. “We can continue fighting the same battle we have been fighting for decades or we can try a new approach.”
Mr Hamilton continued, ‘What we have found is that our nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly. It will be even more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state – federal relations and public confidence in the federal government’s competence, and damaging to America’s standing in the world as a source of nuclear expertise and as a leader on global issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security.
Hamilton said failure “has meant we are slowing down the prospects for nuclear energy” and DOE’s failure to resolve the waste issue has damaged federal-state relations due to its lack of creditability. On the international front, he said, “[w]e cannot claim to be a leader in nuclear power if we cannot solve the fundamental problem of what to do with the waste.”
“The impasse threatens to pass the problems surrounding nuclear waste to future generations , we are about ready to hand over to them the problem we created without a proper solution,” said Former Rep. Hamilton (D-Ind) as he called the decades-long quest to establish a permanent nuclear waste dump a “serious failure of the American government.”
“We cannot really claim to be a leader in nuclear power if we can’t solve one of the fundamental problems with nuclear power: what to do with nuclear waste,” said Hamilton during a House hearing.
“The process has about completely broken down,” Hamilton said, “Failed efforts to establish a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain have damaged our state and federal relationships very sharply.”
“The need for a new strategy is urgent, not just to address these damages and costs but because this generation has a fundamental, ethical obligation to avoid burdening future generations with the entire task of finding a safe, permanent solution for managing hazardous nuclear materials they had no part in creating,” the report says.
While he took no position on the merits of the Yucca Mountain project, Hamilton warned lawmakers that continuing to fight over the project could further delay efforts to establish a permanent waste dump.
“If you stand around and insist on Yucca, Yucca, Yucca … we think the result of that is an impasse, a failure to solve the problem,” he said. “You could go for another 40 years and not solve the problem.”
But Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the full committee, called on lawmakers to “move past a narrow obsession with Yucca Mountain.”
“Going forward, theoretically, if our approach is accepted, Yucca Mountain, Nevada, or anyone else can come forward as a volunteer site,” Scowcroft said. Hamilton noted several times during the hearing, however, that a consent-based siting process will be difficult and time consuming. It could take 10 to 15 years to identify a site for a consolidated storage facility and 15 to 20 years for a repository, he said. “You don’t wave a magic wand to correct sins of the past,” Hamilton emphasized.
The Commission’s full report is available at: www.brc.gov