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Nuclear Energy Insight

Summer 2012—Many government commissions produce reports and make recommendations that no one accepts or acts upon.

Insight Summer 2012 fuel storageA recent example is the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which was created in 2010 to recommend ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. The commission could not find consensus, and a vote on its proposals failed to pass the U.S. Senate.

It’s a different story with the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which was charged with studying the nation’s policies for managing used nuclear fuel.

The 12-member commission worked for two years, holding hearings around the country on what to do with the used fuel now held in storage pools and containers at nuclear power plants.

On a visit to Carlsbad, N.M., the commission heard about the success of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which safely disposes of defense-related radioactive waste. Government officials there touted the state and local support for WIPP.

“We showed the country and the world the model for successfully siting a nuclear waste facility that is protective of its workers, the public and the environment,” said Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway.

In its final report, the commission offered several recommendations, including creation of a new organization to manage the country’s used fuel program, development of one or more underground repositories, and the creation of one or more centralized interim storage facilities.

In a statement, six energy industry organizations, including NEI, said they “stand ready to work with the Department of Energy, the administration and Congress to implement the [commission’s] recommendations to advance the nation’s economic, energy, environmental and national security imperatives by creating a sustainable integrated used nuclear fuel management program.”

The commission’s recommendations quickly gained bipartisan support in Congress. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said he agrees with many of the commission’s recommendations. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called the report “timely” and said that addressing issues such as developing new methods to site a repository “requires an open mind to move past the narrow obsession with Yucca Mountain.”

At present, two of the panel’s recommendations have especially caught the attention of Congress. The first calls for one or more consolidated storage facilities to store fuel taken from nuclear energy sites. Instead of 65 different sites holding the fuel, the consolidated storage facilities will help meet the federal government’s legal obligation under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act to take possession of the used fuel.

The second recommendation said that communities must be engaged early in the process of siting both consolidated storage sites and permanent repositories to forge a consensus among the federal and state governments and local communities, a lesson of the visit to WIPP. The House of Representatives approved $5 million in next year’s budget to review requests from communities to host storage sites and $25 million to resume licensing proceedings for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository.

Congressional hearings have been scheduled to review the recommendations.

Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.