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Blue Ribbon Commission sets new path for nuclear waste policy

by Lisa Janairo ~ March 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
After two years of study, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has issued its final recommendations for a new strategy for managing the nation’s high-level radioactive waste.
Progress on the study had been closely monitored by two CSG Midwest committees, both of which have worked to provide state officials in the region with a voice on the future direction of U.S. policy.
Blue Ribbon Commission co-chairs Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft say the report provides recommendations for “a sound waste management approach that can lead to the resolution of the current impasse.” They added that the “nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly.”
In the Midwest, nuclear power accounts for 17 percent of electricity generation, with 20 nuclear power plants operating in eight states.
The future of nuclear power has been clouded in part by the lack of resolution over what to do with the highly radioactive waste produced at plants in the Midwest and across the country. Ratepayers in most Midwestern states have put hundreds of millions of dollars (billions of dollars in Illinois) into a Nuclear Waste Trust Fund.
But as lawmakers told the Blue Ribbon Commission this fall at a meeting held in Minneapolis by the two CSG committees, ratepayers have gotten little in return due to a lack of progress on a long-term nuclear waste disposal solution.
The 15-member Blue Ribbon Commission — appointed by President Obama in January 2009 — is proposing a “new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities,” including at least one consolidated storage facility and a new repository to replace the canceled Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada.
The commission acknowledges that a consent-based approach to siting “may seem particularly slow and open-ended” given the urgent need to solve the waste disposal problem. Siting and licensing a new repository is estimated to take 15 to 20 years, while a consolidated storage facility could, in theory, be developed in five to 10 years. The commission cautioned against taking “short-cuts,” however, predicting that doing so would “most likely lead to more delay.”
Following the report’s release, U.S. House and Senate committees held hearings on the commission’s recommendations.
The many questions and comments from House members advocating for the revival of the Yucca Mountain project prompted Hamilton to remark: “If you stand around and insist on Yucca, Yucca, Yucca, we think the result of that is an impasse, a failure to solve the problem. We’re trying to indicate a path forward.”
As a result of the testimony and formal comments from state officials, including those who took part in the CSG meeting in Minneapolis, the commission modified its recommendations to include a new item urging “prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.”
Iowa Rep. Chuck Soderberg and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer serve as co-chairs of the MLC Energy Committee. The Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Committee includes a mix of state legislators and executive branch officials.
For information on CSG Midwest’s policy work in this area, please contact Lisa Janairo or Ilene Grossman.