Preliminary recommendations presented by three Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) subcommittees on Friday call for, among other measures, a new entity that could quickly develop one or more permanent deep geological nuclear waste disposal facilities. The recommendations could become part of the BRC’s final recommendations due on Jan. 29, 2012, that address how the U.S. will deal with spent nuclear waste. 

The Disposal Subcommittee urged the government to move quickly on the development of one or more permanent deep geological facilities for high- and low-level waste, and for the creation of a new entity—regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency— to oversee development of the repositories. 

“Permanent disposal is needed under all reasonably foreseeable scenarios,” the subcommittee said in its presentation. “Geologic disposal in a mined repository is the most promising and technically accepted option available for safely isolating high-level nuclear wastes for very long periods of time.” 

The subcommittee also recommended that the new entity was “assured access to the balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund and to the revenues generated by annual Nuclear Waste Fee payments from ratepayers and utilities.” 

Members of the Reactor & Fuel Cycle Technology Subcommittee concluded that advances in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies may hold promise for achieving substantial benefits, but it said that “no currently available or reasonably foreseeable reactor and fuel cycle technologies including current or potential reprocess or recycle technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenge this nation confronts over at least the next several decades.” Therefore, it recommended, the U.S. government should provide long-term research, development, and demonstration support for advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies. 

The Transportation and Storage Subcommittee, which was asked to explore whether the U.S. should change its approach to storing and transporting high-level spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste while one or more permanent disposal facilities are established, recommended that spent fuel being stored at decommissioned reactor sites should be first in line for transfer to an interim storage facility, as soon as one is available. It also recommended that a “new integrated national approach” be developed to “revitalize” the nation’s nuclear waste program, and that the new entity charged with developing permanent disposal facilities develop consolidated storage and transportation capabilities. 

The subcommittees’ draft recommendations, presented at the May 13 full commission meeting, will be discussed—and adopted or rejected by the commission—and opened up to public comment before an interim report is due to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on July 29. The final report with commission recommendations will be presented to Chu in January. 

President Obama ordered the commission’s formation last year after pulling all funding for a planned permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. For more on the history of Yucca Mountain and U.S. nuclear waste disposal options, see “The Road to Nowhere” in POWER’s May 2010 issue. 

Sources: POWERnews, Blue Ribbon Commission