In a harsh critique of the nation’s current policy, or lack of policy, regarding spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste, a presidentially appointed panel said new storage options for nuclear fuel-- in addition to the site under Nevada's Yucca Mountain--must be investigated, and that a new federal agency to deal with nuclear waste should be created.
The commission also urged use of interim storage sites while a long-term repository or repositories are developed.
"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," said the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in a draft report released on July 29.
The commission was appointed by President Obama after he announced that Yucca Mountain would not be pursued as a nuclear storage site. But the 15-member commission recognized that the issue of Yucca Mountain as a repository has still not been resolved, and it did not dismiss the Nevada site as an option.
"We simply note that regardless what happens with Yucca Mountain, the U.S. inventory of spent nuclear fuel will soon exceed the amount that can be legally emplaced at this site until a second repository is in operation. So under current law, the United States will need to find a new disposal site even if Yucca Mountain goes forward," according to the report.
Republicans in Congress said that the report would not have even been necessary if the Obama administration had not halted work on Yucca Mountain.
"The Blue Ribbon Commission has offered various proposals to fix a problem we don't have," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), vice chairman of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee. "The draft report states that the 'American nuclear waste management program is at an impasse.' We would not have this impasse but for the President's politically-motivated decision to close Yucca Mountain."
House Republicans have been investigating whether the decision on Yucca Mountain was appropriate under Nuclear Regulatory Commission procedures.
The administration did not comment on the substance of the Blue Ribbon commission report. But Damien LaVera, the Dept. of Energy's acting press secretary, said, "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."
The panel recommends placing the responsibility for nuclear waste in the hands of a new agency outside of DOE, which currently handles the program.
The commission also determined that a deep geologic waste site is a necessity for nuclear waste disposal. It says, "The conclusion that disposal is needed and that deep geologic disposal is the scientifically preferred approach has been reached by every expert panel that has looked at the issue and by every other country that is pursuing a nuclear waste management program. "
It adds, "Moreover, all spent fuel reprocessing or recycle options either already available or under active development at this time still generate waste streams that require a permanent disposal solution. We believe permanent disposal will very likely also be needed to safely manage at least some portion of the commercial spent fuel inventory."
The panel also says interim storage sites are necessary to hold spent nuclear fuel from facilities that have been shut down.
The commission's co-chairs are former long-time House member from Indiana Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, assistant for national security affairs to former presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. the panel will take public comment on its report through Oct. 31.