The Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC), appointed by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, to develop recommendations for America's nuclear energy future is releasing its final report.
In general, the report recommends the following way forward for the US nuclear program:
1. A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.
2. A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
3. Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.
4. Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities.
5. Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.
6. Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.
7. Support for continued U.S. innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.
8. Active U.S. leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concerns.
What does this mean for the Aiken area? Perhaps the most significant point is No. 1 which indicates that national repositories will only be located at sites that have the consent of local communities. Very democratic. However, that also means that Yucca Mountain is off the table for the forseeable future, although it is the only such site that has been studied, scientifically tested, and found appropriate for licensing. It took over 30 years to arrive at this stage of Yucca Mountain's development as a national repository for commercial and legacy (left from producing nuclear weapons) nuclear waste. Presumably, it will take another 30 years to develop another site, or sites, plus the time it takes to locate geologically appropriate sites and enter into agreement with local citizenry and their governments. In other words, not in our life times. In the meantime, the waste housed at the Savannah River site has no pathway forward, while SRS continues to receive nuclear waste from both domestic and foreign research reactors.
As for item No. 2, the establishment of a new agency charged with the responsibility for managing a national nuclear waste cleanup program, there will probably be considerable opposition to adding another agency to the government. For one thing, down sizing the government is currently more popular than enlarging it.
Item No. 6 will get hung up in Congress for a long time while congressmen and senators argue over which states, cities, and towns will be on the transportation routes for nuclear waste enroute to national repositories (it they are ever sited and developed).
Another disappointment with the BRC recommendations is the lack of emphasis on funding the development of new technologies that will transmute nuclear waste to lower volumes, lower levels of radioactivity, and shorter half lives (called transmutation). Actually, we already developed that technology back in the 50s. It just got round-filed.
In short, the Blue Ribbon Commission final report may have significantly set U.S. nuclear waste management policy and practice back many years. Before the BRC report there remained a faint hope that Yucca Mountain might finally be completed and made ready to receive the nation's amassing nuclear waste, primitive as that concept is as a national nuclear waste management policy. Yucca Mountain residents have made it clear that they are not receptive to that project and with the new consent-based policy, they never will be. The good news may be that the waste at SRS, formerly scheduled for disposition to Yucca Mountain, will continue to be stored there while requiring billions of dollars and a large competent workforce on site.