Friday, July 06, 2012

The States and the Blue Ribbon Commission

Arkansas state houseExpressions of support for moving used nuclear fuel from reactor sites to consolidated storage facilities continue to grow among state legislatures and governments.

Arkansas and Pennsylvania are the latest states to advance resolutions urging Congress to expedite this and other recommendations for managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. They join Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont and other states.

The Pennsylvania resolution passed unanimously in the legislature, and the Arkansas Resolution passed in committee. The resolutions, which are virtually identical in language, link consent-based siting of consolidated fuel sites with the nuclear waste fund, suggesting the federal government offer “incentives to interested communities funded by the accumulated Nuclear Waste Fund.” Alternatively, the resolutions say, the government should refund the money in the fund to ratepayers.

Marshall Cohen, NEI’s senior director for state and local governmental affairs, said the unanimous nature of the votes in Pennsylvania and Minnesota itself sends a message. “Not a dissenting vote in either body is something very rare in today’s highly charged partisan atmosphere around the country,” Cohen said.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 requires the federal government to remove used fuel from commercial reactor sites starting in 1998. However, the government has yet to meet its obligation, and used nuclear fuel remains stored at nuclear energy facility sites around the country—including several that are shuttered, such as Maine Yankee, which Maine Gov. Paul LePage references in a letter to the state's congressional delegation.

Maine Yankee closed in 1996 and was successfully decommissioned in 2005. What remains at the site is a storage facility that holds the reactor’s used nuclear fuel while it awaits federal disposition.
LePage said that while he recognizes Maine Yankee is “safely and securely storing the more than 550 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel,” taking the fuel to a consolidated storage site “will likely result in cost efficiencies that flow through to ratepayers by relieving them of the cost burden of maintaining sites that no longer generate electricity.”

In May, Maine’s two senators, Olympia Snowe (R) and Susan Collins (R) signed on to a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, thanking him for restoring funding to regional transportation stakeholder groups planning to assess infrastructure crucial to moving used fuel from decommissioned reactor sites. The letter was also signed by Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)

LePage’s letter follows a similar one from Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Cohen said the issue of used fuel disposal “resonates in New England,” because there are three decommissioned reactors with used fuel containers awaiting disposition—in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as at Maine Yankee.

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We have no evidence that any given editorial moves public opinion – or influences policy - one way or another. We do know that editorials keep the conversation on a topic going after the initial news interest dies away and that can make a difference in public opinion and policy formation.

From the New York Times (on July 4th, no less):

That group [the Blue Ribbon Commission] recommended the creation of one or more surface storage sites to accept used fuel rods from 10 reactors that have ceased operating. It would be easier to monitor and inspect the rods and cheaper to guard them in a central location. The group also urged that a permanent burial site be found through a “consent-based” approach in which states and communities might be offered financial incentives to accept the waste.

Those recommendations are sensible, and President Obama and Congress should work with the states to move that ahead. If nuclear power is to have a future in this country, politicians, scientists and industry leaders need to commit to finding a solution instead of just hoping that everything will somehow work out.

To be fair, these are the last two paragraphs – most of the editorial is about Yucca Mountain. Still, the commission’s ideas are really percolating – in the states, in Congress and on editorial pages. Good.

The Arkansas state house.

1 comment:

Steve said...

There have been no comprehensive scientific evaluations done to prove that onsite storage of used nuclear fuel beyond the originally-intended 60 years is safe.

There are millions of pages of documents in Yucca Mountain's license application just waiting to be reviewed by members of the NRC, proving Yucca's scientific qualifications and suitability as a long-term storage site.

Yet NEI has basically rolled over and played dead when it comes to demanding that Yucca's license application review process should be resumed.

Whose side are they on?