On Friday, the Blue Ribbon Commission—Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s 15-member panel assigned to recommend a new plan for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle—released a draft report for public comment. The public comment period is due to end Oct. 31, 2011, and a final report is due to Secretary Chu before Jan. 29, 2012. 

The 192-page document essentially describes the nation’s waste management program as being at an impasse: “The Obama Administration’s decision to halt work on a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is but the latest indicator of a policy that has been troubled for decades and has now all but completely broken down,” it starts.

A “new integrated strategy” is needed, it says, including a “new approach to siting nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities.” Among the report’s key recommendations are:

  1. An approach to siting and developing nuclear waste management and disposal facilities in the U.S. that is “adaptive, staged, consent-based, transparent, and standards- and science-based.”
  2. A new, single-purpose organization to develop and implement a focused, integrated program for the transportation, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste in the U.S.
  3. Assured access by the nuclear waste management program to the balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund and to the revenues generated by annual nuclear waste fee payments.
  4. Prompt efforts to develop, as quickly as possible, one or more permanent deep geological facilities for the safe disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste. [See “The Big Picture: Underground Nuclear Waste Disposal” in the August issue of POWER for an overview of such programs worldwide.]
  5. Prompt efforts to develop, as quickly as possible, one or more consolidated interim storage facilities as part of an integrated, comprehensive plan for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.
  6. Stable, long-term support for research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) on advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies that have the potential to offer substantial benefits relative to currently available technologies and for related workforce needs and skills development.
  7. International leadership to address global non-proliferation concerns and improve the safety and security of nuclear facilities and materials worldwide.

Other findings include:

  • Continuing the division of rulemaking responsibilities for long-term repository performance between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • The jurisdictions of safety and health agencies should be clarified and aligned.
  • The roles, responsibilities, and authorities of local, state, and tribal governments (with respect to facility siting and other aspects of nuclear waste disposal) must be an element of the negotiation between the federal government and the other affected units of government in establishing a disposal facility.
  • Recognizing the substantial lead-times that may be required in opening one or more consolidated storage facilities, dispersed interim storage of substantial quantities of spent fuel at existing reactor sites can be expected to continue for some time.
  • The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) be tasked with carrying out an assessment of the lessons learned from Fukushima and their implications for conclusions reached in earlier NAS studies on the safety and security of spent fuel and high-level waste storage arrangements.
  • Spent fuel currently being stored at shutdown reactor sites should be “first in line” for transfer to consolidated interim storage.
  • Although regulatory standards for different types of facilities will differ, the new organization should be responsible for developing consolidated interim storage and permanent disposal facilities and should apply the same principles of decision making to all aspects of the waste management program (i.e., science-based, consent-based, transparent, phased, and adaptive).
  • Siting processes for future waste management facilities should include a flexible and substantial incentive program.
  • Planning and coordination for the transport of spent fuel and high-level waste is complex and should commence at the very start of a project to develop consolidated storage capacity.
  • The federal government should take steps to resolve ongoing litigation between the DOE and the utilities regarding fuel acceptance as expeditiously as possible.
  • A well-designed federal RD&D program will enable the U.S. to retain a global leadership position in nuclear technology innovation.
  • A portion of federal nuclear energy RD&D resources should be directed to the NRC to accelerate a regulatory framework and supporting anticipatory research for novel components of advanced nuclear energy systems.

Sources: POWERnews, POWER, BRC