A $16 million carrot hangs in front of communities that may be willing to temporarily house US nuclear waste in their backyards, courtesy of the US Department of Energy.
This money will go to six to eight — lucky? — Communities “wanting to learn more about consent-based siting, spent nuclear fuel management, and siting considerations for consolidated interim storage facilities”.
Translated, this means that the Biden administration is trying to firmly leave Yucca Mountain moribund in the past, to learn the lessons of successful nations (work with people ready to house the stuff that won’t scratch your face) and make it worth it with a little green and a lot of empathy.
This, according to many experts, is essential to clearing the 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste from the cliffs at the San Onofre nuclear plant, as well as more than 70 reactor sites where things are languishing across the country.
“I think this is great news – the FOA (Funding Opportunity Announcement) announced today is part of a huge DOE effort to make consent-based implantation a reality,” David Victor , a professor in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego and chairman of the San Onofre Community Engagement Panel, a group of volunteers advising Southern California Edison on the dismantling of San Onofre, said via email.
“For too long, the U.S. government has not paid close attention to finding communities that want to house spent fuel. This is true for interim storage and also for permanent disposal. Other countries, like Finland, Switzerland, and Canada, are far ahead of the United States in their spent fuel programs because they have actively sought out consenting communities to store fuel.
One thing to note, he said, is to provide funding to communities that want to better organize and inform themselves. “This is NOT a requirement that the community actually agree to host – this is a matter for much more discussion down the road. The idea is to help ensure that communities are truly informed and engaged , so that the process reveals true informed consent,” said Victor.
The application is clearly not for the faint of heart – the package is 40 pages and includes a history of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (where the federal government agreed to accept commercial nuclear waste by 1998 in return for taxpayers contributing to a fund to pay for it – stifle those laughs) and tries to deal with the familiar criticism – that these projects always hit poor and minority communities the hardest, that waste can stay there for many decades or more, and how can people today “consent” for those who are not yet born? — emphasizing “environmental justice” as a key principle of the consent-based site selection process.
“The successful candidate will need to have knowledge of the socio-cultural, economic and environmental context of the community, including acknowledgment of any past injustices, the current state of harm, remediation and/or redress, and ensuring that every reasonable effort is made to remove barriers to meaningful participation…especially for historically overburdened and underserved communities,” he says.
U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, was a champion in the effort to secure that $16 million to get the ball rolling.
“One of my top priorities since my first day in office has been to get San Onofre nuclear waste out of the area as quickly and safely as possible,” Levin said in a prepared statement. “I am pleased to see the Department of Energy take another important step in the process of creating a consent-based site for the storage of spent nuclear fuel currently at San Onofre. Although we still have a lot of work to finally move the waste, this long-awaited progress is very encouraging, and I can’t wait to see the results of the winners.”
Applications must be submitted by December 19, the DOE hopes to launch the projects by March, with “deliverables” due within 24 months that detail lessons learned, community concerns and how they could be addressed. .
Please note that this is a separate article. public push for temporary storage by DOE. Private companies are seeking their own licenses through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for private also temporary storage sites. The current problem with the private approach is a) the $43 billion Nuclear Waste Fund cannot be used for private storage without further legislation; and b) the communities where these private companies want to put the temporary sites, as mentioned earlier, are fighting tooth and nail against being the nation’s nuclear waste dump.
Last year, the DOE kicked off the consent-based implantation process with a polite and philosophical request for comment on consent-based implantation itself. He received 225 responses ranging from “nuclear power is the key to a low carbon future” to “nuclear power is a threat to humanity itself”.
But there were many similar themes, including great distrust of the federal government’s nuclear waste management efforts; concerns about equity in siting waste sites; disagreement over whether temporary storage is necessary, with some saying America should just hunker down and get the picture of long-term storage.
There is concern about the turmoil of politics when it meets the bottom of nuclear waste disposal (policies tend to swing wildly between jurisdictions, from Permanent elimination at Yucca, whether Nevada likes it or not! at Yuka is dead! Interim storage instead while we chop this!), and strong support for a major change in the way nuclear waste is handled at the federal level. A new independent organization – specifically devoted to the location and storage of nuclear waste – has been suggested by many.
This is not a new suggestion. A decade ago, the US Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future urged policymakers to retire the DOE program and create a semi-autonomous organization in its place, specifically dedicated to this issue.
“He would still be accountable to congressional oversight, but in an effort to ‘protect’ him from short-term political pressure,” Tom Issacs, a nuclear expert who was the Ribbon Commission’s senior adviser, said via email. blue. “The other countries that are seriously looking for a solution, such as Finland, Sweden and Canada, have dedicated organizations.”
Victor from UCSD believes that as more communities see a potential benefit in interim storage, they will push for it, which will change the policy around this challenge. This is essentially what happened in Finland, the most advanced country in terms of permanent storage, he said.
“That’s the key to political sustainability – taking this topic from a subject that blows in the wind with every change of administration and making it an issue for which there is more reliable and increasingly vocal political support” , Victor said.
The Blue Ribbon Commission also recommended that billions from the Nuclear Waste Fund be available for this effort, rather than captive to annual appropriations from Congress, making long-term planning and program implementation “extremely uncertain.” and ineffective,” Issacs said.
“But right now,” he said, “I’m very happy to see the announcement from the DOE.”
Hear hear. Now Congress do Something.