Move used nuclear fuel to interim sites, says White House panel
Draft recommendations from a White House commission on spent nuclear fuel released Friday include a call for one or more new aboveground interim storage sites in the United States. But the advice, which is subject to revision in a preliminary commission report due out in July, has already drawn fire from Republicans in the House of Representatives, foreshadowing a coming fight over nuclear waste.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future was formed by President Barack Obama last year to offer advice on how to deal with U.S. nuclear waste in the wake of the White House's 2009 decision to cancel plans for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. "There do not appear to be unmanageable safety or security risks associated with current methods of storage at existing sites," one draft recommendation by the panel states. But "rigorous efforts" are required to maintain this state of affairs, said the commissioners in slides presented Friday.
Yucca Mountain was intended to be a place where the radioactive fuel could cool for several decades and then be entombed permanently. The draft recommendations instead suggest a process involving separate sites for the two steps, as is done in Europe.
Fuel currently stored in aboveground concrete casks at nine decommissioned U.S. plants would be first in line for transfer to the new interim sites, the commissioners advised. Then fuel piling up at working reactors would be transferred. One commissioner, Ernest Moniz, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, noted that the interim sites should be configured in such a way as to allow fuel to cool but be available in the coming decades as nuclear science advances. "We may decide later that it's an energy source and we want to do something with it," Moniz said. To manage one or more long-term disposal sites, commissioners called for setting up an entity independent of federal agencies; Yucca Mountain has been managed by the Department of Energy.
The draft advice also urges increased federal investment to reduce waste with advanced methods. "Advances in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies may hold promise" for improving safety or lowering cost, according to the draft recommendations. Those technologies might include advanced reactors that would partially or fully recycle spent fuel for additional energy, known as reprocessing. So "stable, long-term research and development" should be provided by the government to look into advanced reactors, the commissioners said. But "no currently available or reasonably foreseen reactor and fuel cycle technologies....have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenge this nation confronts over at least the next several decades."