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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Ribbon Commission’

DOE Yucca Mountain Blue Ribbon Commission Issues Report ‘What We’ve Heard’

Friday, March 25th, 2011


Friday, August 13th, 2010

President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has been instructed to use “science” in its recommendations on how to deal with the nation’s nuclear spent fuel. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Administration admits that the decision to terminate Yucca Mountain was not made on any scientific or technical basis.

But now a group of social scientists is arguing that the Commission had better consider “social science” in its deliberations as well. Writing in the current issue of Science, the prestigious journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team of sixteen social scientists from around the country urges the BRC to weigh the science of public opinion as carefully as they consider the technical aspects of nuclear reprocessing.

"While scientific and technical analyses are essential, they will not and arguably should not carry the day unless they address, substantively and procedurally, the issues that concern the public," the experts write. Sharon M. Friedman, professor of journalism at Lehigh University, one of the lead authors, said the President’s panel "appears to be overlooking what social scientists have learned over 20 years about public perception of, and response to, the risks of nuclear wastes.”

The paper does not pretend to offer solutions but concludes:  "Addressing the relevant social issues does not guarantee success, but ignoring them increases the chances of repeating past failures, like Yucca Mountain."

Read more at the NY Times


Friday, July 16th, 2010

“This has to be based on data and science and technology and we cannot allow politics to guide what we do.” – Gov. Christine Gregoire

By Steve Hedges
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire says she’s been dealing with the issue of nuclear waste for more than 20 years, and she has the logic down cold.

As she told President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future Thursday, there are a few key principles to her formula.

First, there’s science. Then there’s technology. And then there is politics – two kinds. There is politics with a “Big P,” she said, and politics with a “Little P.”

Politics with a “Little P” means working with the local community to win acceptance for a plan for treating nuclear waste.

It’s the “Big P” politics that causes the problems, Gregoire told the commission. And it’s “Big P” politics, Gregoire implied, that has led to the Obama administration’s decision to shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada.

Gregoire didn’t say that directly. But during her talk with the commissioners it was hard to miss her inference.

Yucca was authorized by Congress, she said, but it has been, “taken away for reasons I don’t know and I don’t understand. The reason we’ve lost trust on that is that we don’t’ know if it’s based on science and technology. We have spent billions of dollars. We have prepared Hanford waste to go to Yucca.

“When we allow politics or anything else to get involved, we lose the trust of the people of Washington. This has to be based on data and science and technology and we cannot allow politics to guide what we do.”

Hanford, Washington, a center of U.S. military nuclear production, is sitting on thousands of tons of nuclear waste. The people of Hanford and Washington, Gregoire said, have been planning on moving that waste and cleaning up Hanford’s soil for years.

Those hopes rested on the construction of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which Congress designated in 1987 as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.

So it was notable that the Blue Ribbon Commission, formed earlier this year to examine waste storage alternatives, held two days of hearings at Hanford.
Hanford , in south central Washington, was established in 1943 to build weapons grade plutonium, and it did so throughout the Cold War until 1989. The biggest worry there is 149 single-cell underground storage tanks filled with liquid waste generated by the process of making plutonium for nuclear weapons. More than 40 of those tanks are “leakers,” Gregoire said.

During her talk, Gregoire’s primary focus was on the long-running state-federal partnership to clean up Hanford. But with speaker after speaker at the commission’s Hanford hearing focused on the decision by Obama, press by Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada democrat and the current Senate majority leader, to shut Yucca down.

In turn, the hearing showed the ripple effect that closing Yucca will have on the communities where reactors have been running and producing energy and where waste has been accumulating and stored, all in the belief that the Congressionally-mandated Yucca repository would one day be available.

Right now nuclear waste is stored at more than 100 reactor sites while states waited for Yucca.

DOE, which was charged by Congress to build Yucca, earlier this year called it, “unworkable,” but has yet to provide scientific data to support that assessment.

Reid’s opposition is based on the premise that Yucca is too close to Las Vegas, and that a leak or an incident involving nuclear material being transported to Yucca will damage Las Vegas and Nevada’s tourism industry.

But Gregoire and several other witnesses before the Blue Ribbon Commission on Wednesday and Thursday noted that the selection of Yucca has been a 20-year long process, and that other sites – including Hanford – were considered before Congress settled on Yucca.

Upon learning of administration efforts to close Yucca, Washington, South Carolina, the counties of Aiken, S.C. and White Pine, Nev., as well as an association of utility commissioners have sued to keep it open.
Gregoire, in fact, told the commission Thursday that she has personally been involved in negotiations with DOE to clean up Hanford for two decades as director of the state’s environmental agency,  its attorney general and now its governor.

She noted that DOE is half-way done with a $12.3 billion waste treatment plant that will vitrify weapons waste to specifications designed for storage in Yucca. If Yucca is cancelled, she said, that will put the waste treatment plant’s mission in limbo.

"I don’t have any confidence that we’ll pick another (deep disposal) site anytime soon, and even then, the process will take years," Gregoire said. "Hanford cannot wait."

Waste in seven Hanford storage tanks has been removed – no simple feat, she said, given the fact that no one knew how to handle that waste beforehand.

The present danger, Gregoire and other speakers reminded the commission, is that leaking tanks are spreading in underground plumes that threaten the nearby Columbia River, one of the West’s vital waterways. Hanford stretches along 51 miles of Columbia River bank.

“We’ve got to get those tanks emptied,” Gregoire said. “There’s a plume that’s headed toward the Columbia River. We’ve got to stop it. We don’t know how to stop it.”


Thursday, July 15th, 2010

"Boy oh boy, what a mess we created making those bombs.  Now we have to fix it up," the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune reported that commission member and former New Mexico senator Pete Domenici said after a commission tour of Hanford.

By Steve Hedges
Washington State will use a visit by the President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of nuclear waste Thursday to press the Administration to halt its effort to shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, telling the commission that Yucca is the only viable option available “after 28 years of science.”

In prepared remarks made available early Thursday, Washington’s attorney general states, “To ensure the timely availability of a repository for high-level radioactive waste, the Blue Ribbon Commission must include the Yucca Mountain facility as one of the alternatives it examines.

“Decades of delay means decades more delay in achieving cleanup of our environment, all the while exposing the citizens of Washington State and our environment to the risk of further leaks and releases.”

Closing Yucca Mountain, Washington state argued, would also mean disrupting construction of a $12.3 billion waste treatment that is being built at Hanford to prepare radioactive waste from government weapons programs for storage at Yucca.

In the statement to be read by Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Sue Wilson for Attorney General Rob McKenna, Washington state also argues that the U.S. Department of Energy, “must not abandon its application to license the Yucca Mountain facility, so that it remains an option for the national repository for high-level radioactive waste.

“Finally, as to Attorney General’s request of the Commission: At this juncture, there is only one legal process in place for developing a geologic repository – that provided by the current NWPA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act). And, under the NWPA, there is only one entity that may take Yucca Mountain off the table – and that is Congress.

“The convening of a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine alternatives to Yucca Mountain and recommend possible amendments to the NWPA cannot substitute for a process already provided by law.”

The comments were part of a two-day visit to Hanford, Washington by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group established by the administration to explore alternatives to Yucca for nuclear waste storage.

Though Congress determined in 1987 that Yucca Mountain, Nevada should be used as a deep-storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste, the Obama administration and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate majority leader, oppose the use of Yucca and have moved to block its construction.

The administration has cut off Yucca funding and its Department of Energy attempted last spring to withdraw the license for Yucca from consideration before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

However, a three-person licensing board within the NRC ruled in June that DOE does not that authority to withdraw the license, since the selection of the Yucca site was determined by Congress. Currently, nuclear waste is stored at reactor and government sites around the country.

In Washington state’s case, that means tons of waste is kept at Hanford, which produced plutonium for nuclear weapons until 1989.

Washington, South Carolina, the counties of Aiken, S.C. and White Pine, Nev., and a group of utility commissioners have taken legal action to stop efforts to shut Yucca down. They have filed suit against the government in federal court and have filed motions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has said that it will now rule on Yucca’s viability.

On Wednesday, the Blue Ribbon Commission heard from several Native American representatives and other local leaders and environmentalists about the impact of keeping waste stored at Hanford instead of moving it to Yucca.

Those speakers noted the dangers of storage at Hanford, and how leaks in containers might pollute the Columbia River and local groundwater and soil for thousands of years.

As reported by the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune, “Taking Yucca Mountain off the table has disrupted a nationwide ‘ecosystem’ for dealing with nuclear waste, said Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council.

“If high-level waste doesn’t go to Nevada, then why should New Mexico continue to be home to a national repository for plutonium-contaminated waste, why should Idaho take nuclear Navy waste and why should Hanford be considered for disposal of mixed low-level radioactive waste? he asked.

“ ‘These are just three examples of what we believe has turned into a political house of cards,’ he said.”

Echoing the complaints about the Obama-Reid efforts to close Yucca, Brooklyn Baptiste of the Nez Perce tribe told the commission, "Science always seems to be topped by politics in the end.”

"Boy oh boy, what a mess we created making those bombs," said former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a Blue Ribbon Commission member. "Now we have to fix it up."

In his written testimony, McKenna stated, “The environmental legacy at the Hanford site includes approximately 2,300 tons (2,100 metric tons) of spent nuclear fuel; 9 tons (8 metric tons) of plutonium in various forms; about 25 million cubic feet (750,000 cubic meters) of buried or stored solid waste; groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread out over about 80 square miles (208 square kilometers); more than 1,700 waste sites; about 500 contaminated facilities; and more than 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemically hazardous waste in 177 underground storage tanks.”

McKenna and several of the other speakers noted that there are 177 underground tanks holding waste at Hanford, and that 149 of those tanks are, “single-shell tanks” (SSTs) that do not comply with applicable hazardous waste tank standards.”

“The average tank is now 42 years past its expected 25-year design life,” Mckenna stated. “All 149 SSTs have been declared “unfit for use” by DOE under Washington’s Hazardous Waste Management Act (HWMA) and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Of these 149 tanks 67, or more than one-third, are “known or suspected leakers” that have together released approximately 1 million gallons of waste to Hanford’s surrounding soils.”

To deal with those leaks, DOE is building a $12.3 billion waste treatment plant that is closely tied to Yucca’s operation, McKenna said. The plant will process the waste into vitrified logs that will be stored for years.

“The WTP was designed and is being constructed to satisfy performance standards specific to the Yucca Mountain facility,” McKenna argued. “Through a series of references, DOE’s contract for design, engineering, and construction of the WTP requires that the facility be designed and built to produce a product that satisfies waste acceptance standards specific to the Yucca Mountain repository.”


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

By Nuclear Townhall Staff
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future runs into potentially choppy waters today as it kicks off a two-day meeting in uncharted territory in Kennewick — the largest city in the state of Washington’s Tri-Cities area near the Hanford nuclear site.  The meeting is the third meeting of the full Commission, which held its two previous meetings in the relatively comfortable confines of Washington, D.C. officialdom.

Following a morning tour of the Hanford site, which includes a visit to the Columbia Generating Station’s independent spent fuel storage installation, the panel will convene a three and a half hour afternoon session with key Hanford site, state and local government officials.  Energy Northwest Chief Executive Vic Parrish will also offer 20 minutes of testimony.

The volume is expected to escalate significantly on Thursday, which features a morning session headlined by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as well as Congressman Doc Hastings.  Senior Washington Assistant Attorney General Mary Sue Wilson will testify on behalf of  Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is leading a multi-party legal effort to overturn the Obama Administration’s termination of the Yucca Mountain program.

In a June 30th statement, Gregoire said:  “It would be a mistake, at this late stage, to abandon Yucca Mountain as the national nuclear repository. Here in our state, the federal government’s construction of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, which began in 2001, is nearly halfway done.”

Senator Murray and Congressman Hastings released a July 6th letter signed by 91 Members of Congress to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu urging the Administration to immediately halt all actions to dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain at least until legal action regarding the withdrawal of the application is resolved.  

“We are deeply disappointed that the Department has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain,” the lawmakers noted in the letter.

Click here to read a copy of the Murray-Hasting letter signed by 91 Members of Congress.

The final BRC agenda for the web-cast two-day session can be found here.


Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Nuclear Townhall Staff
The abrupt cancellation of the scheduled House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee markup this week is both a telltale sign and symptomatic of the difficulties the Democrats are going to have in passing any appropriations bills for the new fiscal year, which begins on October 1. 

Earlier in the week House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) conceded that the House wasn't going to be able to pass a budget until a Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission reported its recommendations on lowering the Federal deficit. 

No, that's not the same BRC that is supposed to come up with a solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. But both BRC panels probably have the same probability of success other than achieving the time honored tradition of kicking the issue into the next Congress.

With regard to the scuttling of the House Energy and Water Development appropriations markup, it appears that the "Chairman's mark" provided no funding for nuclear loan guarantees in FY2011 — notwithstanding the Administration support for $36 billion in new authority. 

There is also speculation that House leadership didn't want to undercut the FY2011 Supplemental Appropriations bill — which Speaker Nancy Pelosi just yesterday said will move next week before the July Fourth recess. The Supplemental will have companion $9 billion appropriations for renewables and nuclear energy loan guarantees — accommodating Representative Hoyer's interest in getting Federal backing for expansion of the Calvert Cliffs plant in Maryland.  U.S. Department of Energy approval of the loan guarantee is reportedly in the final stages.

Veteran appropriations observers concede that — given the likelihood that there is virtually no chance that a stand alone Energy and Water Appropriations bill will pass the Congress this year –it is remarkable that the markup was scheduled at all. With just 10 legislative weeks left, it is a forgone conclusion that Congress will package almost the entirety of the FY2011 appropriations, except perhaps defense and homeland security, into a continuing resolution.