Making Progress Toward a Permanent Disposal Site for Nuclear Waste Will Build Public Confidence in Interim Storage

Blog by Betsy Madru, April 22, 2022

Making Progress Toward a Permanent Disposal Site for Nuclear Waste Will Build Public Confidence in Interim Storage

By Betsy Madru

In 2012, the U.S. Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was formed by the Secretary of Energy to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. One of the Commission’s recommendations was to use consent-based siting approaches to determine a location for a facility to store and dispose of nuclear waste. 

In 2017 the United States Department of Energy developed and requested public comment on the “Draft Consent-Based Siting Process for Consolidated Storage and Disposal Facilities for Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste.” The incorporation of consent-based siting in DOE’s nuclear waste work is moving the nation’s nuclear waste program in the right direction. 

The DOE has revived its efforts by recently issuing a Request for Information on “Using a Consent-Based Siting Process To Identify Federal Interim Storage Facilities.” This means interested entities had an opportunity to submit their thoughts on how such a process should be conducted to ultimately help the U.S. progress toward a solution. 

Here is an excerpt from Deep Isolation’s RFI response:

“The Department of Energy should lay out a comprehensive plan for development of an entire waste management system that provides flexibility in the strategy and approach for storage, transportation, and disposal. An essential part of any fully integrated plan is continuation of generic work that will be required regardless of the final destination of the material, such as work being done under 180(c) of the NWPA to provide technical and financial training to local state and tribal public safety officials whose jurisdictions are on major transportation routes. Initiating a consent-based siting process for interim storage is an important first step of the Department’s overall plan, but it must be developed against the larger backdrop of a comprehensive system that is grounded in sound science and built on a platform of public trust and confidence.”

“Progress on establishing one or more permanent disposal facilities is critical to efforts to develop an interim storage facility. … If it is assumed that potential interim storage sites will be pursued using a consent-based process, then the hosts of those sites must have reasonable confidence that the sites will, in fact, be “interim” and not become permanent by default. The only way to maintain that balance and assurance is to have a robust integrated waste management system that includes both types of facilities as well as the accompanying safety and regulatory structure to enable success.”

“New regulations for geologic disposal must be built on a solid technical foundation of safety analyses and performance assessments, and must establish regulatory certainty at the outset…. Clarity and certainty about the regulatory process will provide a necessary underpinning for conversations about the siting of disposal facilities.  This will in turn provide greater confidence that interim storage will not become permanent and will allow more open dialogue with prospective host communities and states that is built on a platform of transparency and trust”

Now that responses to the RFI have been submitted, the Office of Nuclear Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy will use the 220 responses submitted to inform development of a consent-based siting process, overall strategy for an integrated waste management system, and possibly a funding opportunity. The DOE has consolidated all the responses and is planning to issue a report of all the findings in the coming months and 

To learn more:

Social Scientist Explains Community Consent

Keeping Nuclear Waste Transportation Safe

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Deep Isolation, Inc.
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Berkeley, CA 94704