USA explores waste options alongside Yucca

25 March 2015

A new Department of Energy (DOE) initiative on radioactive waste disposal could "finally bring some progress the nation's long-neglected nuclear waste management policy," said Marv Fertel, the head of US trade body the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

Yucca Mountain
Yucca Mountain remains the legislated disposal site for used nuclear fuel 

Fertel was responding to a three-part announcement from the DOE on 24 March which said it had decided to dispose of military nuclear wastes separately from power plant used fuel; that it plans to launch a consent-based approach to find a location to dispose of military wastes; and that it will create an interim storage facility for the power plant materials in the meantime.

These new policies aim to rectify a stalled program dating back to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 which later saw Yucca Mountain in Nevada selected as the country's one-and-only disposal site for highly radioactive material. This program is well funded by industry contributions and has progressed to the point of having an approved design, despite moves by the administration of President Barack Obama to put it on ice in 2009.

Fertel welcomed proposals for a bipartisan bill to put waste management back on track, but underlined that Yucca Mountain remains the legislated disposal site for the USA: "That program is the law of the land and should be completed." 

The DOE did not comment on Yucca Mountain, but it did announce two major site selection programs: one for an interim store of used fuel from power plants; the other for the final disposal site for military waste. Following international best practice these processes will be "phased, adaptive and consent-based".

This means that communities across America will be invited to join step-by-step reversible processes that would work transparently to eventually select the sites for development. A key aspect of this kind of process is that the communities could withdraw at any time. John Kotek of the DOE said, "we must solve the issue of nuclear waste disposal and we must do it in a way that will ensure public trust and confidence in decision-making throughout the process."

Fertel concluded: "The industry acknowledges DOE's parallel development of a consolidated interim storage facility for commercial reactor fuel in a willing host community and state, and a separate repository for defence waste. These must be developed in the same time frame. Responsible stewardship of used nuclear fuel from the production of electricity with nuclear energy is a priority for our industry and should be for the federal government."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News