There was something for everyone in a blue ribbon commission's final report about managing waste from nuclear power plants.
The report, released January 26 and in such high demand that downloads crashed the commission's servers, drew praise from the Nuclear Energy Institute. And from utility organizations. And from Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and Senate majority leader who hates the Yucca Mountain waste repository. And from Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman who likes the Yucca Mountain waste repository.
Not bad for a bipartisan commission charged with the thankless task of recommending alternatives for disposing of some 70,000 metric tons of hot stuff nobody wants in their backyard.
Strike that comment. Maybe there's a community that wouldn't mind having spent nuclear fuel in its backyard. It all depends on how it's asked. The Swedes have figured out that honey works better than vinegar. We could learn from their example. More on that in a bit.
Two of the blue ribbon panel's recommendations were: 1) geologic disposal is the only practical way to dispose of spent fuel rods that can no longer support productive fission reactions, and 2) a "consent-based approach" should be instituted for finding the right location for the burial ground.
"Consent-based approach" means that imposing a nuclear waste repository on a community or state without asking what the locals think or taking any other steps to gain their trust is a fool's errand that wastes time, sows ill will, and exacerbates the difficulties of solving an already difficult problem. As the commission noted: "Any attempt to force a top-down, federally mandated solution over the objections of a state or communityfar from being more efficientwill take longer, cost more, and have lower odds of ultimate success."
Which is exactly the approach Congress took in 1987 when it expediently passed legislation designating Yucca Mountain as the sole candidate repository. The bill will be forever known in the Silver State as the "screw Nevada" bill, and Nevada politiciansRepublicans, Democrats, and all points in betweenhave fought the project tooth and nail ever since. Yucca Mountain might well be the most geologically suitable place in the country for storing nuclear waste for thousands of years, but the low-brow politics surrounding the manner in which Yucca Mountain was chosen needlessly contaminated the waste disposal debate.
Sweden followed a far different, more collaborative process, and the result was that a candidate disposal site was chosen in 2009 with the consent of the host community. The Swedish nuclear industry put a private company in charge of finding a site. The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) looked for places with the right geologic criteria, but also spent a lot of time talking to communities, explaining its plans, and asking for communities to volunteer for initial geologic testing.
The community of Osthammar, north of Stockholm, went through the process and was chosen as the host community for a repository license application. To be sure, Osthammar is not of one mind on the issue. There are residents who believe SKB's outreach was a PR hood ornament for a predetermined outcome. Still, Osthammar has veto power: once the license application has been reviewed, the community will get an additional chance to give thumbs up or thumbs down.
Community leaders are upbeat about the economic benefits Osthammar would gain if the site is licensed, but also like the idea of showing a productive way forward on nuclear waste disposal for the U.S. and other countries.
Because the stuff has to go somewhere and somewhere will be in someone's backyard.
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