Final Blue Ribbon Commission Report Urges Cooperative Efforts in Siting Waste Facilities

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By Pat Ware  

A new consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities and a new organization to run a waste management program are two key recommendations in a final report released Jan. 26 by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.

The commission recommended that an “independent, government-chartered corporation” be established to focus solely on a radioactive waste management program as an alternative to the existing program run by the Energy Department.

Among its eight key recommendations, the report calls for the new organization to have access to the funds utility ratepayers are providing for nuclear waste management. It also recommended that prompt efforts be made to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.

In addition, the report called for preparations for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when these facilities become available.

Ultimately, the report urged support for continued U.S. innovation in nuclear energy technology and for active U.S. leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, nonproliferation, and security concerns.

The Jan. 26 report is the final version of a draft report released in July 2011 (147 DEN A-4, 8/1/11).

The blue ribbon commission was formed in 2010 when development of a site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a permanent geologic repository was halted by the Obama administration (19 DEN A-10, 2/1/10).

The site, which had been in development for decades by DOE, was intended to be a deep-underground repository for disposal of spent fuel from commercial power plants and high-level defense-generated waste. Scores of nuclear power plants across the nation have been storing their spent nuclear fuel in wet pools and dry-storage casks for decades.

Republicans Support Report's Findings

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of its Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, welcomed the final report.

“In the wake of the Obama administration's mismanagement of Yucca Mountain, we agree with the commission that a new organizational structure must be put into place to manage our country's nuclear waste,” they said in a statement.

Both congressmen have in recent years called for a reversal of President Obama's decision to halt development of Yucca Mountain. The blue ribbon commission was instructed not to consider Yucca Mountain in its deliberations.

Although Yucca Mountain was not selected in a “consent-based approach,” Upton and Shimkus expressed their support for opening it.

“The commission underscored the need for prompt action on a long-term storage disposal facility, and we believe Yucca Mountain remains the most shovel-ready, thoroughly studied option.” they said. “While we develop this repository, we agree that we must also prepare for the large-scale transport of nuclear waste.”

House, Senate Hearings Scheduled

The Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy has scheduled a hearing on the report Feb. 1, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing Feb. 2.

“While the commission's report doesn't break a lot of new ground, it does offer some solid recommendations for improving U.S. policy, especially the call for the creation of a new organization that's protected from political influence or annual funding bills to handle nuclear waste disposal,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement, “While by law Yucca Mountain continues to be the only designated permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste, sensible steps to make it easier for future generations to manage nuclear waste warrant examination.”

Access to Nuclear Waste Fund Needed

Organizations representing state public utility commissions, nuclear energy producers and suppliers, and other public and private organizations, welcomed the report and said they agreed with its eight recommendations.

Three of the recommendations, however, should have the highest priority, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, the American Public Power Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Edison Electric Institute, said in a statement.

One of the recommendations that deserves priority is assured access by the nuclear waste management program to the Nuclear Waste Fund, they said. The fund is a one-tenth of a cent fee paid for by consumers of electricity from nuclear power plants, which totals about $750 million a year, they said.

Facility Can Be Ready in 10 Years

In a second priority, the organizations said they believe actions can be taken to achieve consolidated interim storage in a willing host community within 10 years.

That would be “well before a repository could be opened,” the groups said.

Finally, the groups urged the creation of a new, congressionally chartered federal corporation dedicated solely to nuclear waste management.

Three of these organizations made similar comments Jan. 23 (14 DEN A-8, 1/24/12).

Although many of the blue ribbon commission's recommendations require congressional action to be fully implemented, “the Energy Department, under existing authority, can and should take action immediately to advance the recommendations,” the groups said.

For More Information

The final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is expected to be available at http://brc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/brc_finalreport_jan2012.pdf.