The federal government is not likely ever to secure local consent for disposal of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors, but that approach could nonetheless be tested in a plan for temporary storage of the radioactive material, according to a former head of the Energy Department’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM).
“Consent-based siting does sound very appealing. I just don’t see it leading to a successful leading to a successful conclusion. Of course, I may be wrong,” Ward Sproat, who managed OCRWM from June 2006 to January 2009 before it was dismantled by the Obama administration, wrote in a May 2 letter to Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Among the obstacles to consent, Sproat wrote: history, as illustrated by failed Private Spent Fuel storage project in Utah; politics, including the potential for elected officials who support a facility to be replaced by opponents; and the need for at least two layers of local approval to analyze a selected location and then to begin licensing.
Still, Sproat indicated support for assessing the viability of a consent-based approach for interim storage discussed before the committee by an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Geoff Fettus, senior attorney for the NRDC’s nuclear program, was among the witnesses for a May 1 hearing on a draft bill from Barrasso that is intended to advance interim storage and permanent disposal of U.S. spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Among the measures, the legislation would authorize the secretary of energy to site, build, and operate at least one monitored retrievable storage facility and to store DOE-held waste in a privately operated facility.
In his prepared testimony, Fettus said the NRDC supports changing existing federal laws to give states more authority for regulating radioactive waste as part of a consent-based approach. A pilot program for interim storage should specifically involve a hardened structure at an operational nuclear power plant, Fettus said.