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Reset Nuclear Waste Policy - Critical Issues





In a first meeting in February, 2015, the Steering Committee identified these critical issues, each of which will be the subject of a separate meeting:

  • The creation of a new waste management organization: Although recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission, there has been only limited discussion of the structure, characteristics, and funding of such a new organization. The committee identified two very different topics that should be addressed: i.) the structure or anatomy of the organization; ii.) the behavior or physiology of the organization.  The second is seldom discussed, but the issues are critical to success (e.g., the values of such an organization; how it learns and how it interacts and communicates within its political and technical sphere and still maintains credible constructive interactions with the affected public).  This was the subject of the meeting in September, 2015.
  • Definition of a consent-based process for siting nuclear facilities: Although the Blue Ribbon Commission, and now DOE, often refer to the need for a consent-based process, there is little discussion of what this means and how such a process might be designed. A consent-based process requires the blending of social and technical criteria in the selection, characterization and development of a geologic repository, but there has been no effort to design a technically-based, legal process that is compatible with the needs of a community, the states and the federal government. Simple questions remain unanswered, such as: What constitutes consent? How does a community or state give informed-consent? When and how can a community withdraw consent? Can a consent-based siting process succeed in the United States? This will be the subject of a meeting on March 9 - 10, 2016.
  • Integrated analysis of the entire waste generating system: The value of a “total system analysis,” from the point of waste generation to its final disposal, is generally recognized.  However, such an evaluation has not been carried out in terms of the analysis of risk, the development of incentives, or the development of a consistent regulatory framework. In fact, there are many disconnects in the U.S. approach. For example, the nuclear utilities can make locally rational decisions about the storage of their SNF that have the effect of complicating its final disposal. This will be the subject of a meeting in May, 2016.
  • Regulations and risk evaluation methodologies: The present regulatory framework for a geologic repository in the U.S., unlike other nations, requires the quantitative calculation of risk out to hundreds of thousands of years. Is such an approach necessary or even possible? Does such an approach instill public confidence or skepticism? What are the alternative approaches adopted abroad? The revision of the regulations and standards may open the way to a more straightforward siting process for nuclear facilities and generate greater public acceptance.
  • Where are the risks with present U.S. policy: It has been common to focus on very long-term risk, but the steering committee determined that in order to develop a compelling case for a new U.S. policy it was necessary to understand the risks of continued delay of the U.S. waste program. Absent from present discussions is a clear understanding of the risks over the next several hundreds of years. These are the risks that are of greatest interest to the affected public.

Each of these issues has a generally unappreciated level of complexity. The discussion of each issue requires input across the broadest range of disciplines – science, engineering, social science, political science, and the law. The discussions also importantly benefit from the participation of concerned members of the public, state governments, national laboratories, and universities, as well as members of the executive and legislative branches of government.

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