The future of America’s nuclear waste

The future of America’s nuclear waste

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Dry casks containing spent fuel rods

The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC), a federally established advisory panel meant to study the issue of nuclear waste management, presented its findings to lawmakers on Capitol Hill today.  This article in The Hill gives details on the hearing.  Former Congressman Lee Hamilton and Retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the co-chairs of the BRC, testified.  They spoke about the Commission’s recommendations which were more focused on the process by which a nuclear waste disposal site would be established.

When questioned by the Committee why they did not make specific siting recommendations, they identified that the BRC was not meant to look at, or even suggest, siting.  They also made it clear that the BRC did not issue an opinion about the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal facility.  Some Representatives argued that Yucca Mountain was supposed to be the solution to the nation’s nuclear waste problem.  Politics played a role in the discussion as some Congressmen accused various decision makers of obstructing progress on the Yucca Mountain site.

It was also noted that the Department of Energy bares a significant amount of liability (at least $2 billion by some estimates) for not being able to guarantee federal administration of nuclear waste disposal.  At present, radioactive waste is typically stored on the reactor site where it is generated.  Members who have nuclear plants in their districts identified this as a major concern for the safety and health of their constituents.

Jobs also factored into the debate as the promise of a new waste facility also carries construction and staffing contracts with it.  Politics and personalities aside, what is clear is that America needs to figure out what to do with its civilian nuclear waste if its nuclear power industry is to survive.  With respect to Yucca Mountain, from my point of view, policy makers have put all of their eggs in the Yucca Mountain basket, and now that’s been dropped, they need to start over and begin to lay new options.

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