Politics and Money Trump Science and Reason on Nuclear Waste Panel; Doomed to Fail
With the appointment of a radioactive waste panel composed almost exclusively of committed nuclear power advocates, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a sound, scientifically-defensible, consensus radioactive waste policy for the United States.
The panel, whose names were announced yesterday, was established to follow up on the Obama Administration’s widely-applauded decision to end the failed Yucca Mountain, Nevada nuclear waste project. Environmentalists had hoped the panel could be the first step toward developing a radioactive waste policy that could both gain public acceptance and find a real solution toward isolating the waste from the environment for its extremely long hazardous life.
“We thank President Obama for canceling the Yucca Dump in Nevada; Yucca exemplified the failure we get when waste policy is driven by politics rather than science. But we are sickened that Secretary Chu has selected a new group that will take us all down the same old road with money and politics in the driver’s seat” said Mary Olson, Nuclear Waste Specialist with Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). “In the end, this approach will fail just like Yucca did– because it does not work. Politics is no replacement for strong technical work.”
The panel includes former Senator Pete Domenici, a radical nuclear ideologue, and John Rowe, head of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear utility and former president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. None of the panelists is a known critic of the nuclear industry.
“By failing to appoint a single nuclear power opponent—or even mild critic—to the panel, Secretary Chu is ensuring that a new radioactive waste policy will suffer from the same lack of diverse opinion and imagination that brought us Yucca Mountain in the first place,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS. “This is the worst start to this process we could imagine, and seems destined to result in yet another failure to attain a radioactive waste policy that can achieve popular support.”
“Promoting new nuclear waste production from new reactors, as the Obama administration is doing with its loan guarantee program, while seeking to address the existing radioactive waste problem is like a announcing a study of obesity at an ice cream social. We must isolate this waste from our environment for as long as it is hazardous, which is tens of millions of years; making more will only make that challenge harder” said Diane D’Arrigo, Director of the Radioactive Waste Project at NIRS. She concluded, “Electric power is the source of over 95% of the radioactivity in all nuclear waste from all sources.”
The federal government also announced yesterday (Federal Register, January 29, 2010, Volume 75, Number 19) that it will take up to 10 more years to decide whether, and how it will clean up the nuclear power and reprocessing waste at West Valley, NY—waste from the only commercial reprocessing done in this country (1966-1972). Just a few years of reprocessing resulted in waste in tanks and trenches that are estimated to cost $9.7 billion to clean up. Clean-up is a necessity to prevent irreversible damage to the Great Lakes watershed, but neither the companies who made the waste nor the government is willing to do the job. DOE is punting by allowing up to 10 years to decide what to do with reprocessing waste that was generated 38 years ago.
“The government’s stubborn refusal to commit to cleaning up the nuclear power and reprocessing waste generated by the first nuclear reactors and the failed reprocessing at West Valley should serve as a stern warning not to spend $54 billion on loan guarantees that only guarantee more long lasting deadly waste threatening our precious water supplies. How about $10 billion in the current budget to cleanup West Valley instead of making more waste?” asked D’Arrigo.
Nuclear Information and Resource Service and our network of hundreds of grassroots groups across the United States has been actively engaged in radioactive waste policy for thirty two years. In 1994 NIRS launched the Stop Mobile Chernobyl Campaign and in 1998 petitioned the Secretary of Energy to disqualify the Yucca Mountain site from further consideration as a geologic repository site since it did not meet the basic siting criteria established in law. In 2009, when President Obama directed the Secretary of Energy to establish an advisory panel on radioactive waste policy, NIRS convened an informal working group of concerned citizens from communities impacted by the production, handling, transportation, storage and potential disposal of this waste. This group has issued two letters – the first in May 2009 to President Obama on broad nuclear waste policy recommendations, posted: http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/hlw/obamaltrsigners.pdf
The second letter is addressed to Secretary Chu and suggested that the advisory group budget include funding for the invited participation of truly independent technical experts in the process and is posted: http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/policy/chuwasteltr11132009.pdf
This community has prepared a set of principles for safeguarding highly radioactive waste at reactor sites which is posted: http://www.citizen.org/documents/PrinciplesSafeguardingIrradiatedFuel.pdf