The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was charged by President Barack Obama with recommending ways to move forward with used nuclear fuel in light of the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project. Let’s leave aside the wisdom of closing Yucca Mountain – considering alternatives was what the commission was asked to do.
The Commission is being co-chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. They are both now elderly gentlemen – performing further public service – because they were asked to chair this committee. Would that we, at whatever age, were so devoted to the public good.
Note that the commission was not asked to find a site nor was it given guidance as to a preferred approach to processing used nuclear fuel – a permanent or interim repository, recycling, burying in salt – everything was one the table – except Yucca Mountain (which, after all, is a site. But the commission was rather pointedly directed – no Yucca Mountain.)
The report is 192 pages. If you want to start reading, go over to the BRC site and you can download the pdf or read it online.
The language in it can be blunt:
Put simply, this nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government’s competence, and damaging to America’s standing in the world—not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of
nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security.
That strikes me as exceptionally broad, but it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The Wall Street Journal offers a reasonable summary of the report’s contents:
The centerpiece: an independent federal entity, funded by existing fees on utility customers rather than the year-to-year congressional budgeting process, that would work to find a long-term dump. The panel also said that in the interim, nuclear waste should be moved to consolidated storage sites, a move that could save money and develop expertise in storing the waste. Any final disposal site, the panel said, should be chosen by developing standards and then finding a community that wants to accept it.
NEI offered more detail:
The industry is particularly gratified to see the recommendations calling for the establishment of one or more consolidated interim storage facilities for used nuclear fuel; development of a permanent underground repository for commercial used fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs; creation of a new management organization that will assume the U.S. Department of Energy’s role in managing this material; and legislation providing full access to nuclear waste fee revenues and the federal Nuclear Waste Fund. These should be among the nation’s top energy policy priorities.
I was especially interested in the “new management organization.” Here’s why the BRC considers it necessary:
Clearly, multiple factors have worked against the timely implementation of the NWPA [Nuclear Waste Policy Act] and responsibility for the difficulties of the past does not belong to DOE alone. Nevertheless, the record of the last several decades indicates that the current approach is not well suited to conducting a steady and focused long term effort, and to building and sustaining the degree of trust and stability necessary to establish one or more permanent disposal facilities and implement other essential elements of an integrated waste management strategy. These considerations lead the Commission to agree with a conclusion that has also been reached by many stakeholders and long-time participants in the nation’s nuclear waste management program: that moving responsibility to a single purpose organization—outside DOE—at this point offers the best chance for future success.
This seems more an issue of process than a systemic problem, but the BRC takes an exceptionally delicate tack here, so there it is. And it’s not a bad idea to create an NRC-type organization (in form if not in mission) to assume control of the used fuel issue. There are certainly enough tasks to keep it busy.
The Department of Energy tries a gracious welcome on its blog:
Today, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future issued a draft of its recommendations.
The Obama Administration continues to believe that nuclear energy has an important role to play as America moves to a clean energy future. As part of our commitment to restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process, we are committed to finding a sustainable approach to assuring safe, secure long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.
Secretary Chu appreciates the hard work done by the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission, and thanks them for a very thoughtful report. The interim report issued today is a strong step toward finding a workable solution to the challenges of the back end of the fuel cycle.
In other words, non-committal. To be honest, most of the major recommendations build on ideas that have been percolating throughout the industry and government for awhile, so the content of the report aggregates these ideas and argues hard for the aggregation.
I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about the report after a more thorough reading, but I wanted to be sure you knew it was out.
The Blue Ribbon Commission. Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft are second and third from left ((click for larger).