Prof. Per Peterson from University of California, Berkeley, spoke February 6 on the conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste. He was one of a couple technical people on the commission; most were more into policy.
Per Peterson, on the left, and others visit New Mexico.
The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission:
1) A new, consent-based approach to siting and development
The process should be transparent, phased, adaptive, standards- and science-based, and governed by partnerships agreements. Consent-based siting is now occurring in other countries (Sweden and Finland have chosen sites; construction will begin soon. France is in the process.) States must have the ability to negotiate legally-binding agreements (eg, New Mexico negotiated the right to regulate toxic chemical waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for military waste)—this is probably single most important element of consent.
WIPP had a lot going for it (the citizens of New Mexico favored the site) and their senior Senator (Pete Domenici) sat on both appropriating and authorizing committees.
2) A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
The Secretary of Energy has a very large portfolio, and waste management is a very small part, and today, turnover is too rapid to establish relationships with communities.
3) Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.
Electricity users pay a 0.1 cent/kWh surcharge for permanent waste storage. Every year, >$750 million from this fund is used to offset the deficit. If it is spent, other discretionary programs must be cut. The Administration can make this change without Congressional approval, a very important first step.
4) Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires a 2nd repository, so even if you favor Yucca Mountain, there are other local communities interested in moving forward.
5) Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.
The report doesn’t say how prompt, but such a facility could save money from court claims for onsite storage, and waste could be moved away from sites that have closed plants.
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 effort to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concerns.
There is broad agreement on these recommendations. The President can begin some (where fees go), but most recommendations require Congress to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The report was delayed after Fukushima, and based on that event, the Commission recommends that National Academy of Sciences undertake another study of security and safety spent fuel storage. Spent fuel storage performed well through Fukushima, but we still need to learn whatever lessons there are to learn.
• The overall record of the U.S. nuclear waste program has been one of broken promises and unmet commitments.
• The Commission finds reasons for confidence that we can turn this record around
• We know what we have to do, we know we have to do it, and we even know how to do it.
• We urge the Administration and Congress to act on our recommendations without further delay.
And—We have ethical, legal, and financial responsibility to find solutions.