Starting Over on Nuclear Waste Storage

The strategy is to establish a pilot interim storage facility that mainly will accept used nuclear fuel from reactors that have already been shut down; a larger interim storage facility; and one or more long-term geologic repositories.

A Dec. 21, 2015, announcement from Franklin Orr, U.S. Department of Energy under secretary for science and energy, surprised me: He explained that DOE has again begun working on "a consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities as part of a strategy for the long-term storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste." Which was the goal of those seeking to inter such fuel and wastes at Yucca Mountain in Nevada for roughly 20 years.

While I doubt this could become a hot-button issue in the 2016 presidential campaigns, it's not impossible. Nevada's state and federal officials battled Yucca Mountain for years and ultimately found a president, Barack Obama, who agreed with them and killed the project, which had cost billions of dollars by then.

Orr explained that a consent-based siting process will ensure that communities, tribes, and states are partners comfortable with the location of future storage and disposal facilities before they are built. "We will be developing a detailed plan for this process in the coming year, and we need your help," he added.

DOE will follow the process laid out in a 2013 strategy document that was based on recommendations from President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. The strategy is to establish a pilot interim storage facility that mainly will accept used nuclear fuel from reactors that have already been shut down; a larger interim storage facility; and one or more long-term geologic repositories.

Orr asked the public to submit comments or concerns to consentbasedsiting@hq.doe.gov, to visit energy.gov/consentbasedsiting, and to attend one of the public meetings that will take place across the country. The kickoff meeting was set for Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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