Monday, May 16, 2011

Blue Ribbon Commission Draft Recommendations On Nuclear Energy

May 13: The President's Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America's Nuclear Future held a day-long meeting in Washington, DC, and released its draft recommendations from subcommittees on: Reactor & Fuel Cycle Technology; Disposal of Nuclear Waste; and Transportation and Storage of Nuclear Waste. The actions follows last week's May 10 release of the Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) 80-page report entitled, Commercial Nuclear Waste: Effects of a Termination of the Yucca Mountain Repository Program and Lessons Learned (GAO-11-229, April 08, 2011) [See WIMS 5/11/11], and recent Congressional investigations and debates between Republicans and Democrats on nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal [See WIMS 5/5/11].
    The BRC was established in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and as directed by the President's Memorandum for the Secretary of Energy dated January 29, 2010: Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. The Commission is organized under the authority of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The draft recommendations respond to questions presented to the three subcommittees. The BRC was co-chaired by: Lee Hamilton, former Democratic U.S. Representative from Indiana from January 1965-January 1999; and, Brent Scowcroft, a Republican who served as the National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Thirteen additional members included former Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE); and Pete Domenici (R-NM) and long-time chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee; John Rowe, CEO of Exelon Corporation; MIT Physics Professor Ernie Moniz and others.
    The Technology subcommittee addressed the question: "to evaluate existing fuel cycle technologies and R&D programs in terms of multiple criteria. Criteria for evaluation should include cost, safety, resource utilization and sustainability, and the promotion of nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism goals; and will any of the technologies "have the potential to change the fundamental nature of the nuclear waste management challenge we confront over the next several decades." The draft recommendations indicate that the, "technologies may hold promise for achieving substantial benefits," research should continue, but, "No currently available or reasonably foreseeable reactor and fuel cycle technologies including current or potential reprocess or recycle technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenge this nation confronts over at least the next several decades."

    The Transportation subcommittee addressed the question: "Should the United States change its approach to storing and transporting spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste, while one or more permanent disposal facilities are established?" The draft recommendations indicate that, "The United States should proceed expeditiously to establish one or more consolidated interim storage facilities as part of an integrated, comprehensive plan for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle" and, "there do not appear to be unmanageable safety or security risks associated with current methods of storage at existing sites."
    The Disposal subcommittee addressed the question: "How can the United States go about establishing one or more facilities for permanently disposing of high-level nuclear wastes in a manner and within a timeframe that is technically, socially, economically, and politically acceptable?" The draft recommendations indicate in part that, "The United States should proceed expeditiously to
develop one or more permanent deep geological facilities for the safe disposal of high-level nuclear waste. Permanent disposal is needed under all reasonably foreseeable scenarios. Geologic disposal in a mined repository is the most promising and technically accepted option available for safely isolating high-level nuclear wastes for very long periods of time."
    Additionally, the Disposal subcommittee recommended, "A new, single-purpose organization is needed to develop and implement a focused, integrated program for the transportation, storage and disposal of nuclear waste in the United States. . . siting processes for all such facilities are most likely to succeed if they are: (1) consent-based; (2) transparent; (3) phased; (4) adaptive; and (5) standards- and science-based." The subcommittee also said that the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board "should be retained as a valuable source of independent technical advice and review."
    Even before the draft recommendations were officially released, they received immediate, harsh criticisms from Republicans. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders expressed what they said was "disbelief with reports that the Obama administration's blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste disposal is set to recommend taxpayers fund a new search for temporary storage – despite 30 years of research and billions of dollars already spent on a permanent storage site buried deep within Yucca Mountain." They cited advance media reports which indicated that the scope of the panel's review which they said "did not allow for the consideration of Yucca as an option."
    Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) who are conducting their own investigation into the Administration's termination of the Yucca repository said that "already, facts have come to light revealing significant internal legal and policy dissent within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about the administration's decision." Representatives Upton and Shimkus said, "The Obama administration's blue ribbon panel is nothing short of a smokescreen -- we already have a long-term, visionary plan for permanent storage in Yucca Mountain. It is unconscionable for the Obama administration to squander three decades of bipartisan collaboration, breakthrough scientific research, and billions of taxpayer dollars, all for what the GAO has determined to be political calculations. This administration should be listening to the nuclear scientists, not political scientists, on matters as serious as our nuclear future. Nuclear safety is a matter of national security, and political motives cannot be allowed to jeopardize the investments and expertise gathered over the course of decades." 
    Access the meeting materials, recommendations and a webcast Access (click here). Access complete background on the BRC including all meetings, background papers, correspondence, comments and more (click here). Access the release and links to more information from the House Energy and Commerce Committee (click here). [*Energy/Nuclear, *Haz/Nuclear, *Haz/Transport]