‘Consent-based’ siting process for nuclear waste started

WASHINGTON — With Yucca Mountain mothballed as a nuclear waste repository, the U.S. Energy Department on Monday launched a “consent-based” siting process to ensure that communities, tribes and states are comfortable with the location of future storage and disposal sites before they are constructed.

Exactly how the process will work has not been determined. The Energy Department plans to flesh out the approach in the next year and is asking for public comment to make it “fair and effective.”

“Your input will inform the design of a consent-based siting process, which will serve as a framework for collaborating with interested host communities across the country,” Undersecretary Franklin Orr said in an online statement. “We want to hear from you.”

An “Invitation for Public Comment” will be published in the Federal Register in the next few days. The department is planning to hold public meetings in 2016 across the country. And, comments or concerns can also be emailed to consentbasedsiting@hq.doe.gov.

Spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors is stored on-site at nuclear power plants across the country. Although it is safe and secure in these locations, a long-term solution is needed to ensure that the public and environment continue to be protected, Orr said.

The department plans, as a first step, to develop a pilot interim storage facility to accept used nuclear fuel from reactors that have been shut down. The facility would allow spent fuel to be accepted from utilities while the Energy Department develops protocols and procedures for transportation and storage of nuclear waste. The Obama administration also supports developing a larger, interim storage facility that would have more capacity and capabilities. The larger facility probably would serve as a packaging facility for waste before shipment to one or more long-term geological repositories.

Orr said that geological repositories, which would store nuclear material deep within the Earth’s surface in safe, scientifically proven locations, represent the safest and most cost-effective method for permanently disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, had been tapped as a repository for storing thousands of canisters of waste in tunnels drilled throughout the mountain. The Obama administration in 2010 shelved the controversial project, which faced opposition from many Nevada political leaders and citizens.

Congress last week approved an omnibus budget to keep government agencies funded through September that included no additional spending on Yucca.

Contact Peter Urban at purban@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @PUrbanDC