Blue Ribbon Commission issues report on used nuclear fuel

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future on Jan. 26 released its final report to the U.S. Energy Secretary, detailing recommendations for creating a safe, long-term solution for managing and disposing of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

The report is the culmination of nearly two years of work by the commission and its subcommittees, which met more than two dozen times since March 2010, gathering testimony from experts and stakeholders, as well as visiting nuclear waste management facilities both domestic and overseas.

The commission, co-chaired by former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, was tasked by Energy Secretary Steven Chu with devising a new strategy for managing the nation's sizable and growing inventory of nuclear waste.

"The majority of these recommendations require action to be taken by the Administration and Congress, and offer what we believe is the best chance of success going forward, based on previous nuclear waste management experience in the U.S. and abroad," the commissioners wrote in a letter to Chu that accompanied the report. "We urge that you promptly designate a senior official with sufficient authority to coordinate all of the DOE elements involved in the implementation of the Commission's recommendations."

The strategy outlined in the Commission report contains three crucial elements. First, the Commission recommends a consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities, noting that trying to force such facilities on unwilling states, tribes and communities has not worked.

Second, the Commission recommends that the responsibility for the nation's nuclear waste management program be transferred to a new organization; one that is independent of the DOE and dedicated solely to assuring the safe storage and ultimate disposal of spent nuclear waste fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Third, the Commission recommends changing the manner in which fees being paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund – about $750 million a year – are treated in the federal budget to ensure they are being set aside and available for use as Congress initially intended.

The report also recommends immediate efforts to commence development of at least one geologic disposal facility and at least one consolidated storage facility, as well as efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from current storage sites to those facilities. The report also recommends the U.S. continue to provide support for nuclear energy innovation and workforce development, as well as strengthening its international leadership role in efforts to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation and security concerns.

Areva in a statement backed the Commission's report but said the U.S. has much to do to catch up with the rest of the world.

"Recycling used nuclear fuel is a proven solution that conserves natural resources and simplifies waste management but we must think in terms of real and sustainable solutions," said David Jones, senior vice president of Areva Inc. "The rest of the world is moving forward with forward-thinking solutions and the U.S. should join and lead this effort."

The Commission noted that it was specifically not tasked with rendering any opinion on the suitability of Yucca Mountain, proposing any specific site for a waste management facility, or offering any opinion on the role of nuclear power in the nation's energy supply mix.

The U.S. currently has more than 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at about 75 operating and shutdown reactor sites around the country. More than 2,000 tons are being produced each year. The DOE also is storing an additional 2,500 tons of spent fuel and large volumes of high-level nuclear waste, mostly from past weapons programs, at a handful of government-owned sites.

The Commission's full report is available at: www.brc.gov

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