Friday, June 11, 2010

Nuclear Waste Disposal:

A Tall Order for the Blue Ribbon Commission

Although I have heard many comments about what the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste disposal should cover, I have heard fewer comments about how it should do its work. I was therefore very interested in a recent article by Iain Murray on the latter subject. Although I don't necessarily agree with some of his general observations on global warming or on the public perception of solar and wind, I think he has given a very good account of how the consultation process, particularly with local communities, has helped in other countries.

His article reinforces what I have seen as the basis for apparent success of the Finnish and Swedish approaches to siting waste facilities. I was further interested in his report of the finding of the British review that citizen panels and school projects came to different conclusions about geologic disposal than did the stakeholder groups, which he indicated were dominated by groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. While we all know that Greenpeace, FOE and others are very active and vocal participants in stakeholder activities, I do not think many decision-makers fully understand that such voices do not necessarily represent the views of local residents or others. It therefore only reinforces my conviction that the process that the US uses to reach a new decision on disposal of nuclear waste has to emphasize this type of engagement.

I also note that Iain Murray mentioned that the Commission should "explore the feasibility of reviving the Yucca Mountain project." While that will be very contentious politically, it would give added credibility to the Commission's efforts if it can address Yucca Mountain, as it would help demonstrate that the Commission's review was comprehensive.

Clearly, the Blue-Ribbon Commission has its work cut out, but it would make a good start by heeding the lessons of history, both good and bad, so that we do not simply repeat the mistakes of the past.



  1. The views of local residents or others are likely to be not informed views whereas those of the stakeholder groups are probably informed views with a political agenda. If the process used to reach a new decision on disposal of nuclear waste is to engage local residents, then how does the Commission achieve a consensus of the community that is sufficient to outweigh those of the stakeholders?

  2. Spent fuel is probably the most valuable future fuel resource on Earth.

    When the next generation of commercial breeder and fast reactors go online 20 or 30 years from now, referring to spent fuel as nuclear waste will be a thing of the past.