Bipartisan group wants to restart nuclear waste discussion

The Nuclear Waste Initiative of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) expects to publish a series of white papers within the next three-to-four months on the current situation facing the embattled Yucca Mountain waste repository project in Nevada and national spent fuel policy.

The BPC is trying to draft a “fact based” paper on the status of the Yucca Mountain proposal, and a “fair representation of what both sides have said,” Nuclear Waste Initiative Director Tim Frazier said following a presentation to a committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

“I think one of the things we’ve been successful in doing is starting the conversation again,” Frazier said following the presentation. Frazier was a key staff aide for the much-discussed Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was formed in the early days of the Obama administration by then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Chu had announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) no longer considered Yucca Mountain a viable option.

The commission, which included among its members both current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Allison Macfarlane, who would go on to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), issued its final report in January 2012.

The Blue Ribbon Commission made a list of recommendations, including taking nuclear waste disposal responsibility away from DOE and putting it with a newly-created nuclear waste organization.

Now the BPC is seeking to keep the policy momentum generated by the Blue Ribbon report going. BPC is nearing the end of a series of regional meetings on the issue, which include both public and private sessions.

“There used to be a sense of urgency when this whole thing started,” said David Wright, a former South Carolina Public Service Commission member. Wright now is an energy consultant and also is active in the pro-nuclear organization, Nuclear Matters. The urgency over spent fuel has waned over the years as certain people connected with the issue have retired, Wright said.

A former president of NARUC, Wright has long been active on spent fuel issues and is well-versed in the litigation that ultimately forced NRC to resume work on the Yucca Mountain license application in the past year.

NARUC is not necessarily wedded to the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, but believes it is important for the legal process to go forward, he said during the committee discussion, officials said during the Feb. 16 meeting.

Both Wright and Frazier said the current BPC effort is geared toward finding “areas of agreement” that might exist among various factions.

“Everything is on the table for us,” Frazier said. “Not everyone agrees on anything … Everyone agrees we need to do something,” Frazier said.

Even if the United States had no nuclear plants, it would still have a waste problem, Wright said.

Currently, this waste is stored on-site at nuclear reactors. Federal courts have found that DOE has failed in carrying out its promise from decades ago to handle disposal of spent fuel from reactors.

There has even been talk that the government might issue a request for proposals (RFP) seeking willing host communities that might be interested in interim or long-term storage facilities.

But Mississippi Public Service Commission member Brandon Presley said his state won’t be a willing host. “We are not the least bit interested in Mississippi of being the replacement site for Yucca Mountain,” Presley said.

“The legislature has taken action again and again. … “We’d appreciate being marked off the list,” Presley said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.