Friday, January 27, 2012

Reporting on the BRC Report

news-boyThe NEI coverage of the Blue Ribbon Commission final report is below this post and gives a good summary of industry response. We’d thought we’d take a look at some of the coverage in the press and see how it is playing around the country. These are news stories, so we’re not gauging reaction, as we would with editorials, just the accuracy and usefulness of the reporting.

And some are better than others. The TriCity [Wash.] Herald, using the AP story as a base, sort of misses the boat with this lede:

The United States should immediately start looking for an alternative to replace the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which cost an estimated $15 billion but was never completed, a presidential commission said Thursday.

It’s not wrong exactly, but the stress on Yucca Mountain suggests the commission had something to say about it. In fact, it had nothing specific to say about it and, if Yucca Mountain were determined to still be the best locale for a central used fuel repository, that would be consistent with the report.

Yucca Mountain was picked by a process established by law, but "now the Blue Ribbon Commission suggests we just ignore the law and start all over?" said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is running for governor as a Republican, in a statement. "That recommendation could set our country back at least 25 years."

Well, he said it, but it isn’t really the case that Yucca has been eliminated from consideration. The report didn’t eliminate any location from consideration. President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, yes, blue ribbon commission, no.

Here’s what the report says. It’s pretty direct:

The Blue Ribbon Commission was not chartered as a siting commission. Accordingly we have not evaluated Yucca Mountain or any other location as a potential site for the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste, nor have we taken a position on the Administration’s request to withdraw the license application.

The New York Time’s Matt Wald gets closer to the gist and introduced in the lede the second element that picked up a lot of attention, the consent-based approach to siting a repository:

A commission appointed to find alternatives to a failed plan to store nuclear waste in the Nevada desert declared on Thursday that the United States would have to develop a "consent-based approach" for choosing a site because leaving the decision to Congress had failed.

By securing local consent, the panel said, the government might avoid the kind of conflicts that led to the cancellation of plans to create a repository at Yucca Mountain, a site 100 miles from Las Vegas, in 2010. It noted that local willingness had been crucial to decision-making on sites for nuclear waste depots in Finland, France, Spain and Sweden.

This is true, though it ignores that Yucca Mountain might well be open today if President Obama had not closed it – and neither Obama nor Secretary Chu have offered a definitive reason for closing it, so we not sure if “conflicts” led to its shuttering. One can infer a lot of things, but not really know them.

Here’s what the commission says about the consent-based approach:

By contrast [to a top-down, federal-led approach], the approach we recommend is explicitly adaptive, staged, and consent-based. Based on a review of successful siting processes in the United States and abroad—including most notably the siting of a disposal facility for transuranic radioactive waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, and recent positive outcomes in Finland, France, Spain and Sweden—we believe this type of approach can provide the flexibility and sustain the public trust and confidence needed to see controversial  facilities through to completion.

And it’s right. This has worked to tamp down public opposition in those place – WIPP is almost a case study on how to do it - though it takes more time and effort to engage with local communities and any attempted process may come to nothing. That’s the risk.

Back to Wald:

The panel … also suggested that the government, which assumed responsibility for high-level waste 30 years ago, take the job of managing the waste out of the hands of the Energy Department and give it to a federally chartered corporation created for that purpose.

Such an agency would be more effective than the Department of Energy, which "must balance multiple agendas or policy priorities," it said.

The idea of the chartered corporation appears further down  in a number of stories, so a fair number of writers may have decided it’s a little more arcane a subject for general interest readers but still important.

Here’s the commission on the corporation:

[T]he Commission concludes that a new, single-purpose organization is needed to provide the stability, focus, and credibility that are essential to get the waste program back on track. We believe a congressionally chartered federal corporation offers the best model, but whatever the specific form of the new organization it must possess the attributes, independence, and resources to effectively carry out its mission.

The central task of the new organization would be to site, license, build, and operate facilities for the safe consolidated storage and final disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable timeframe. In most stories I’ve read, Yucca Mountain and consent based siting have been the biggest subjects.

Even as the third most covered aspect of the report in most stories I’ve read, it’s often buried. CNN has it at paragraph 11:

It [the report] said this congressionally chartered federal corporation should have substantial authority and access to funds to accomplish its mission. A board, nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress, would oversee the organization.

I missed much coverage of interim storage sites, another of the report’s recommendations – that seems germane to various communities – but maybe that will be thought most important to communities where they will be sited.

---

The story in the Las Vegas Sun, opposition central for Yucca Mountain in Nevada media, runs through the same subjects as the other stories we reviewed. What I liked was the headline:

Commission: Store nuclear waste where it’s wanted

Yeah, wise guys, where it’s wanted.

It’s a newsboy. I was a bicycle based suburban newsboy back when rather than a wuxtry-wuxtry urban type of newsboy. The former still have some currency – the latter, our boy in the picture, none at all. Count him as among the culturally lost.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No one has ever been harmed by dry storage casks just sitting next to the reactor building.

This is a complete non-problem. And the longer we wait the less radioactive the spent fuel becomes.

Thus, the Blue Ribbon report is utterly flawed. What a disappointment. In stead of telling the truth about today's spent fuel storage - which is that it works fine and is cheap - they blow up the issue to nonsensical proportions. Suggesting that we should immediately start with searching for a new repository. Why? Who will be hurt by not building centralized geological storage? No one.

The Blue Ribbon commission is a commission looking for a problem. In stead of telling the truth, they fuel the fire of the "waste problem" which is functionally non-existant but very much alive in the mind of nuclear opposition. I'm even more disappointed because Dr. Peterson is on that commission. He's a smart man and should have known better than to coproduce such nonsensical reports.