U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) Comments  on Consent-Based Siting

 

Response to Invitation for Public Comment on Consent-Based Siting July 29, 2016

 

The Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) is pleased to respond to the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) request  for comments 1  on a consent-based  siting process  for facilities engaged in used

nuclear  fuel (UNF) and high-level  radioactive  waste (HLW) storage and disposal  activities.

 

NIC is the leading U.S. business consortium advocate for new nuclear energy and promotion  of the American supply chain globally.  NIC’s  membership  is comprised of over 80 companies  doing business in the nuclear energy industry. While these views represent  the consensus  views of the Council and its Backend of the Fuel Cycle Working Group, they do not necessarily  represent the specific views of individual member  companies  and  organizations.

 

First, NIC wishes to provide some general overall comments on the appropriateness of moving forward with consent-based siting at this time within the context of an integrated program to discharge the federal government’s responsibilities for managing and disposing of UNF and HLW. As reference, a NIC delegation also attended the April 11, 2016, DOE Consent-Based Siting Workshop  and provided  comments to the DOE at that time.

 

General Comments

 

Today, the America’s  nuclear waste management  program  stands at an impasse.   As a result,  there is no available disposal pathway for the nation’s growing inventory of both commercial and defense used nuclear fuel and high-level waste. Cmrently, used fuel and high-level waste (HLW) from both commercial and defense activities remain in storage at 121 sites in 39 states. U.S. commercial spent fuel inventories now exceed 75,000 metric tons at 99 operating reactors and 13 shutdown sites.

 

It has been more than 30 years since enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA); more than  18 years since the federal government failed to meet its statutory and contractual obligation  to begin removing used fuel from nuclear power reactor sites; more than seven years since the Yucca Mountain license application review process began; and more than five years since the Obama Administration defunded the repository program and dissolved the Office of Civilian Radioactive  Waste Management (OCRWM).

 

This impasse is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. The current estimate of federal liabilities is approximately $24 billion and growing – a $10 billion increase since the Obama administration first moved to terminate the Yucca Mountain project. In addition to these mounting costs, failure to bring closure to the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle adversely impacts nuclear energy as a much needed component for low carbon, reliable and affordable electricity. Moreover, as noted by the President’s own Blue Ribbon Commission, the continued stalemate is damaging America’s global standing on issues of nuclear safety, nonproliferation and security.

Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 246 /Wednesday, December 23, 2015, 79872-79874.

 

Given this background, NIC questions the need to establish a new process at this time for UNF and HLW storage and disposal facilities when such facilities are already subject to extensive siting and licensing regulations under the Atomic Energy Act, Energy Reorganization Act, National Environmental  Policy Act, and the Nuclear Waste Policy  Act.

 

Major infrastructure facilities are sited all over the U.S. every day by government and private industry and include:

 

  • Hazardous waste disposal facilities;
  • Natural gas pipelines;
  • Electric transmission lines; and
  • Solar and wind

 

Accordingly, NIC believes there is no need for an additional bureaucratic overlay unique to the siting of UNF and HLW facilities. The DOE should follow existing law, specifically the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Moreover, there should be no retroactive application of any new siting processes for the Yucca Mountain Project or private-sector  consolidated  storage  facilities

cun-ently progressing under the processes defined by existing laws and regulations. The DOE should appropriately focus on restoring stakeholder confidence in a stable, predictable, and durable process that is science-based  and leverages the private sector for  implementation.

 

A consistent theme voiced by the full range of stakeholders present at the DOE’s Atlanta Workshop was the lack of trust and confidence in the DOE to sustain its commitments through   the full implementation  of any siting process.  Such trust and confidence comes from transparency,  accountability  and compliance with existing laws and regulations.  DOE’s unilateral abolishment of the Office of Civilian Waste Management (OCWRM) has significantly harmed DOE’s standing in the stakeholder community and now unde1mines its very effort to establish the credibility of a new siting process. This current lack of trust and confidence in the DOE was fully demonstrated recently when DOE failed to secure local community support for siting its Deep Borehole test  facility.

 

Accordingly, as a first step in establishing trust and confidence in the DOE nuclear waste management program, DOE should immediately re-establish the OCWRM and then begin working with Congress to establish an enduring organization and management entity that is wo1ihy of trust and confidence by all affected   stakeholders.

 

USNIC Backend  Task Force Recommendations

 

The U. S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council’s Backend Task Force was established in 2012 to    follow matters related to used fuel management  and encourage actions to resolve the impasse  over the nation’s nuclear waste management program and has developed a comprehensive set of recommended  actions to move the program  fmward.

 

The USNIC Backend Task Force believes that Congress and the Executive Branch should    address needed program reforms in a bipartisan fashion, adopting a comprehensive approach that includes provisions to move fmward with the Yucca Mountain project  and development   of

 

consolidated interim storage capabilities, assures the availability of associated transportation infrastrncture,  and aligns organizational  focus and resources behind the  effort.

 

Specific features of a comprehensive  approach include:

  • Yucca Mountain Repository Project. As a cornerstone to any comprehensive program, the NRC environmental and safety review of the Department of Energy (DOE) Yucca Mountain license application must be completed, culminating in a final agency decision to authorize (or not) constrnction of the This action should include steps to re-establish a DOE interim organization, such as OCRWM; and enactment of legislative provisions  for (i)  securing the necessary  land withdrawal  and water rights and (ii) providing  benefits to local and state governments  in return for hosting a repository.

 

  • Consolidated storage. The government  should pursue consolidated interim storage capabilities, including the necessary funding for site evaluation, development, and licensing activities as well as funding to potential host communities and states for monitoring, participation  and evaluation of project-related  Private sector storage solutions  should be encouraged and first priority should be given to used fuel cun-ently residing at sites with no operating reactor.

 

  • Assuring shared valuefor host communities. The development of facilities for management and disposal of used nuclear fuel and HLW represents a significant investment in our nuclear infrastrncture and provides a unique platform for economic development and future research development and demonstration (RD&D). As a committed partner in assuring the successful siting and operation of these facilities, the federal government should provide the necessary resources for impact assistance along with tailored incentives that support the long-tenn mission of the site and its value to the host

 

  • Management andfunding    This action should include the establishment of a   separate, politically independent but accountable federal corporation-type  organization which is mission-based  and structured to execute all necessaiy steps and activities to develop,   license, construction,  operate and decommission nuclear used fuel and high-level waste  storage facilities and permanent repositories. In addition, the Nuclear Waste Fund must be restructured so that access to both the fund’s assets and annual receipts are available for expenditure by the new entity, subject to appropriate  congressional   oversight.

 

  • Transportation planning and execution. Near-term work should focus on assuring the availability of necessary infrastructure and capabilities  (railcars, rail spurs/alternatives  ), to move used fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage facilities and repositories. To the maximum extent practicable, the private sector should be utilized to implement these activities.

 

  • Research, development and demonstration. Continued work must enable advanced reactor  and backend technologies that offer the promise of improved economics, enhanced safety, improved utilization of energy resources and optimization of waste management and disposal based  on the established  existing regulatmy  framework and

 

Comments  on Specific Questions:

 

Reference: Federal Register Vol. 80, No. 246, p. 79872 “Invitation for Public Comment to Inform the Design of a Consent-Based Siting Process for Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities, December  23, 2015.

 

 

  1. How can the Department of Energy  ensure that the process for selecting  a site is  fair?

 

DOE cannot ensure fairness because fairness is a subjective, not objective, concept. Different people value different things in different manners; what makes something “fair” to one person    may be irrelevant to another person.  For example, suppose a geologic repository were to be sited   in a location that minimized the probability  of a release of radionuclides  to future  inhabitants.

That could be constrned as “fairest” to those in the future. At the same time, if this safe location was in an area that has no nuclear power plants, the cmrent inhabitants could complain that they reap little or no benefit  from the nuclear energy enterprise, yet bear some risk due to the  repository  location.  Both are valid ways of assessing fairness, yet they lead to    a different result.

 

In selecting any site for waste management beyond those current authorized by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or currently docketed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, DOE should strive to satisfy several  criteria.

 

  • A facility on the site meets applicable environment, health, safety and scientific criteria, with
  • A facility on the site can meet its mission requirements .
  • The facility does not impose an undue burden on its host community or, if it does, there is adequate compensation  and/or incentives commensurate with the
  • The cost is reasonable .
  • All potential host communities have an opporhmity to be considered,  if they so

 

2. What models and experience should the Department of Energy use in designing the process?

 

The “models and experience” depends on the type of facility. A consolidated storage facility, for example, is interim in nature and poses essentially no risk to nearby inhabitants in normal  operation and accident conditions. Therefore, beyond the conditions already necessary to license and operate a consolidated storage facility, “consent” requirements  should be no more onerous  than requirements for any other facility that stores and processes hazardous materials (e.g., a chemical plant or an oil refinery).

 

A geologic repository is a different situation. A repository, like the consolidated storage facility, poses essentially no risk to current neighbors. However, if the facility does not provide effective long-terrn waste isolation then future inhabitants could be at risk. In this situation, analogous situations would include landfills, low level waste disposal facilities, hazardous waste disposal facilities and injection wells.

 

3.       Who should be involved in the process for selecting a site, and what is their role?

 

The entity that owns and operates the facility should have primary responsibility for selecting a site. Considerations in site selection include economics, logistics, availability  of suitable land,  etc. The owner/operator should consider the ability to obtain the necessary pe1mits and other approvals from local, state and federal authorities. The owner/operator should consider the prevailing local sentiment about having the facility in the community, recognizing that  unanimous support is not a reasonable goal for a nuclear facility. The agency responsible for safety oversight must decide whether  or not the facility meets  applicable  requirements.

 

With respect to people or entities not directly involved in the project, the question gets to a fundamental point -if a facility does not present a significant adverse impact to others, why should those others have veto power over it?  Is proximity  enough to wainnt  control, and if so,  how much proximity? Is it based on distance, unit of government, or what? How many unhappy people  are too many?   These questions have no definitive  answers, which brings  into question  the entire concept of “consent-based” when there are no rules for deciding when you have “consent.” The unsuitability of applying a one-size-fits-all  standard of “consent” fmiher  emphasizes the need to focus on satisfying the objective, site-specific, and science-based criteria embodied by existing environmental  and licensing  requirements.

 

4.       What information  and resources do you think would facilitate your   participation?

 

DOE should provide as much information as possible about the characteristics, concept of operations, and plans for the facilities it intends to site. Economic impact estimates should be provided. Moreover, there should be clear and understandable safety regulations for all activities.

 

Note: There are cmTently no modern, understandable environmental standards for geologic repositories  other than Yucca Mountain.

 

5.      What else should be  considered?

 

There is an urgent need to restore Federal government credibility as a paiiner in executing its responsibilities for the management of used nuclear fuel. The unilateral te1mination of the Yucca Mountain repository program and the subsequent lack of meaningful DOE action have greatly unde1mined  trust  in the durability  of the Federal  Government’s  institutional commitments.

Continued defenal of DOE’s responsibility assures the escalation of taxpayer liabilities and strongly discourages  the development  of beneficial private  sector solutions.

 

 

Further Information:

Caleb  Ward (caleb.ward@usnic.org)