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Panel: U.S. nuclear waste problem can be managed

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 24 2012 3:38 p.m. MST

Private Fuel Storage sought to store nuclear waste at the Goshute Reservation on Utah's west desert.

Deseret News

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A trio of groups in the nuclear energy industry or policy arena are urging the Obama administration and Congress to take a hard look at waste management reforms, specifically by taking action on recommendations to be released next week.

The final report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on high-level nuclear waste management, to be delivered to the U.S. energy secretary by Jan. 29, is expected to recommend consolidated, interim storage of used nuclear fuel and the establishment of a quasi-governmental entity to manage the dilemma.

Everett Redmond with the Nuclear Energy Institute said in a Monday teleconference that if the recommendations of the committee are adopted, the United States can make effective progress in solving the nuclear waste storage problem.

Operators at 104 U.S. reactors are storing used fuel rods in pools or augmenting storage capacity with dry casks because of failed efforts to establish a permanent repository. With a plan for permanent storage at Yucca Mountain, Nev., stalled, legislative action is needed to lawfully allow consolidated interim storage, Redmond said.

Even in advance of congressional action, Redmond pointed out that a quasi-governmental entity should be able to step up and develop site-specific requirements for interim storage.

At the teleconference hosted by the Nuclear Energy Institute and joined by others such as the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, Redmond and others said such storage options need to be embraced, especially since there are willing host states.

In Eddy County, N.M., for example, plans are being weighed for the storage of commercially generated nuclear waste in a 250 million-year-old salt bed.

Utah's own role in the potential storage of spent nuclear fuel has been hotly contested over the years in a plan by Private Fuel Storage to lease land from the Goshute Tribe in Tooele County's Skull Valley.

The gubernatorial administrations of Mike Leavitt, Olene Walker, Jon Huntsman Jr., and Gary Herbert have resoundingly opposed the effort, which has been stalled by litigation and a pair of pending decisions by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management.

Brian O'Connell with the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners said "conceptually" PFS's plan would be welcome because of its "scope, size and attributes."

However, Redmond said a community's and state's willingness to host such a site has to be key in moving forward.

"The short of it is that a local community and state need to be on board for it to be a success."

John Pearce, Herbert's legal counsel, said the governor's office weighed in the report, specifically asking that its narrative make plain that a push for consolidated, interim storage does not equate to a push for PFS as a storage site.

"We were worried it might be read tacitly as calling for support for the PFS site," he said. "We wanted them to stress that they are not even passively suggesting that the PFS site would be appropriate."

PFS has already received a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store up to 44,000 metric tons of the high-level waste in above-ground cement containers on a 100-acre site.

The state has detailed a list of objections to the plan, including the site's proximity to the Utah Test and Training Range and potential seismic activity.

Monday's panel of nuclear energy representatives said all three groups are throwing their support behind the final report's anticipated recommendations.

Among them:

• A new organization to take sole responsibility for implementing the waste management program

• Prompt efforts to develop geologic disposal facilities and consolidated interim storage facilities

• Consent-based approach to siting of future nuclear waste management facilities

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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