Blue Ribbon Commission

In 2009, the Obama Administration announced that it had determined that developing a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is not a workable option and that the United States needs a different solution for nuclear waste disposal. The Secretary of Energy established the BRC on America’s Nuclear Future in January 2010 to evaluate alternative approaches for managing SNF (referred to as ‘used nuclear fuel’ in BRC documents) and HLW from commercial and defense activities.

The BRC conducted a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. It has provided recommendations for ‘developing a safe long-term solution to managing the Nation ’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.’ An interim draft report was issued in July 2011, and a final report was submitted to the Secretary of Energy in January 2012 (BRC, 2012).

The report contains eight recommendations for legislative and adminis­trative action to develop a ‘new’ strategy to manage nuclear waste:

1. A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste manage­ment facilities.

2. A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste man­agement program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.

3. Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.

4. Prompt efforts to develop one or more geological disposal facilities.

5. Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.

6. Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of SNF and HLW to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.

7. Support for continued US innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.

8. Active US leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, nonproliferation, and security concerns.

The near-term direction advocated by the BRC aligns with ongoing DOE programming and planning. Current programs will identify alternatives and conduct scientific research and technology development to enable long­term storage, transportation, and geological disposal of SNF and all radioac­tive wastes generated by existing and future nuclear fuel cycles. The BRC report has informed the Administration ’s work with Congress to define a responsible and achievable path forward to manage used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste in the United States.

In January 2013, the Secretary of Energy issued the Administration ’s Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High — Level Radioactive Waste. The strategy is a ‘framework for moving toward a sustainable program to develop an integrated system capable of transport­ing, storing, and disposing of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from civilian nuclear power generation, defense, national security and other activities’ (DOE, 2013). It addresses several issues: it serves as an Administration policy statement for handling the disposition of nuclear waste; it presents the response to the BRC report; and it represents an initial basis for discussions among the Administration, Congress, and other stake­holders on the path forward for nuclear waste disposal.

The strategy includes a phased, adaptive, and consent-based approach to siting and implementing a comprehensive management and disposal system. With the appropriate authorizations from Congress, the Administration plans to implement a program over the next ten years that:

• sites, designs, licenses, constructs, and begins operations of a pilot interim storage facility by 2021 with an initial focus on accepting used nuclear fuel from shut-down reactor sites;

• advances toward the siting and licensing of a larger interim storage facility to be available by 2025 that will have sufficient capacity to provide flexibility in the waste management system and allow for accept­ance of enough used nuclear fuel to reduce expected government liabilities;

• makes demonstrable progress on the siting and characterization of geo­logic repository sites to facilitate the availability of a geologic repository by 2048.

The Administration, through the DOE, is undertaking activities within existing Congressional authorization to plan for the eventual transporta­tion, storage, and disposal of used nuclear fuel. Activities range from exam­ining waste management system design concepts, to developing plans for consent-based siting processes, to conducting research and development on the suitability of various geologies for a repository.

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