Saturday, January 28, 2012

Disposal/Storage of Spent/Used Nuclear Waste: What Next?

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has released it's final report, running 180 pdf pages. If you really are a "blue ribbon commission" do you need to call yourself a blue ribbon conmmission? Anyway, the commission came up with a strategy comprised of eight elements:
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 concerns.
On page 22 of the report is a bit of history that should be of interest to Washingtonians:
In May 1986, Energy Secretary John Herrington recommended the Hanford site in Washington State, Deaf Smith County in Texas, and Nevada’s Yucca Mountain for detailed site characterization as leading candidates for the nation’s first permanent high-level geologic waste repository. By that time, however, DOE’s efforts to identify promising sites—not only for the two permanent repositories but also for a monitored retrievable storage (MRS) facility—were drawing strong opposition from the elected officials of all potentially affected states. (As an aside, we note that while the federal government’s performance on nuclear waste management has left a lot to be desired, state opposition has played a significant role in the federal government’s failures. As we discuss at length in later chapters, it is clear that the cooperation of affected state governments will be vital to the success of the nuclear waste program going forward.)

Citing rising costs and lower projections for nuclear waste production in the future, Secretary Herrington announced that DOE was suspending efforts to identify and develop a second permanent geologic repository. This announcement also came in May 1986—not surprisingly, it served to intensify the opposition of the three states that had been selected as potential hosts for the first repository.

Faced with a deteriorating political situation and growing recognition that the NWPA’s original timelines and cost assumptions were unrealistic, Congress revisited the issue of nuclear waste management in 1987. The resulting NWPA Amendments Act of 1987 halted then ongoing research in crystalline rock of the type found in the Midwest and along the Atlantic coast, cancelled the second repository program, nullified the selection of Oak Ridge, Tennessee as a potential MRS site, and designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site to be considered for a permanent geologic repository. The decision was widely viewed as political and it provoked strong opposition in Nevada, where the 1987 legislation came to be known as the “Screw Nevada” bill.

Also the report shows that approximately 45% of high-level DOE waste is located at Hanford, more than Savannah River, Idaho, or West Valley. See Fig 11, p. 18. If Yucca Mountain is off the table, Hanford is on the table.