US panel proposes network of nuclear waste sites

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The United States should develop temporary storage facilities to hold the waste produced by the country’s nuclear reactors until a permanent burial site can be developed, a federal panel proposed on Friday. The United States has debated what to do with radioactive waste for decades. The problem came into focus again after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, where fuel stored in spent pools contributed to radiation leaks that officials are still struggling to contain. Congress passed a law to build a dump deep inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but the Obama administration suspended that plan because of vociferous opposition in the state, and set up the “blue ribbon” panel to come up with a new strategy.
Finding other communities willing to accept sites to hold waste for up to 100 years will require negotiation, incentives, and major investments in research into recycling and reducing waste, the commission said. It wants Congress to establish a new, independent agency to oversee the waste storage sites and work closely with communities willing to accept them nearby. “It will only work if it’s combined with … a process for getting an ultimate disposal site,” said John Rowe, a commissioner and chief executive of Exelon Corp, which operates 17 nuclear plants. “One of the things that makes finding an interim site so hard … is that people are afraid there will never be the other shoe dropping,” he said, citing “50 years of broken promises” on nuclear waste disposal. Republicans intent on reviving Yucca Mountain indicated the panel’s report didn’t put that political battle to rest.
“The Obama administration’s blue ribbon panel is nothing short of a smokescreen. We already have a long-term, visionary plan for permanent storage in Yucca Mountain,” said Fred Upton and John Shimkus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. US nuclear waste is currently stored on-site at the nation’s 104 reactors but safety concerns have been raised about keeping it strewn throughout the country. The facilities could start on a relatively small scale by holding only fuel from nine decommissioned reactor sites, said panel member Richard Meserve, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Eventually the capacity of the storage would have to grow to hold more waste as aging plants shut down, he said. The US nuclear industry, still the world’s largest, has struggled with the storage problem ever since the first nuclear power plant was built in the 1950s. New nuclear development in the United States ground to a halt after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 but that hasn’t stopped the existing plants from burning through many thousands of fuel rods since.