Former Yucca Mountain Chief Questions Nuclear Waste Effort

From Forbes

By Jeff McMahon

A hydrogeologist who oversaw the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site says the government’s new “consent-based” search for waste depositories doesn’t go far enough.

Even when communities consent to host a depository, formidable obstacles remain—and the U.S. knows this—said former Yucca Mountain chief William Alley and his wife and co-author Rosemarie Alley, writing in New Scientist this morning. William Alley served as Chief of the Office of Groundwater for the USGS for almost two decades and oversaw the Yucca Mountain project from 2002 to 2010.

“The US recently announced its own volunteer-based policy, including promises to have an interim storage site up and running within eight years and a repository by 2048. It should know better. Is it forgetting its own track record, even with interim storage facilities?”

Last month the Department of Energy launched a 35-year search for a new permanent waste depository, with interim depositories to open in as little as eight years. In its plan the DOE emphasized a “consent-based approach” in which local governments could volunteer sites. But the U.S. has already seen consent-based depository proposals fail.

In the 1980s, Oak Ridge, Tenn. agreed to host an interim facility, Alley notes. In the 90s, the Skull Valley Band Of The Goshute Nation volunteered sovereign land in Utah. And recently Nevada’s Nye County wrote to Energy Sec. Steven Chu offering its consent, hoping to revive the abandoned Yucca Mountain site. In all three cases, statewide opposition trumped local consent.

In 2012 Forbes featured the story of Carlsbad, New Mexico‘s willingness to accept atomic waste.

“It’s now over half a century since the dawn of nuclear energy and dangerous and long-lived waste continues to pile up all over the globe. Something needs to be done,” the Alleys write. “Although touted as the solution, finding a consenting community is merely the first step. The harder part is getting everyone else to sign on.”

The U.S. and U.K. hope to solve their nuclear waste problem by emulating the consent-based approach that resulted in new depositories expected to open in Sweden and Finland. But strong anti-nuclear groups often can martial opposition at the state level, preventing the transportation of waste to a consenting site. And the geologic analysis of a site can take decades, during which scientific and political surprises are likely to occur, Alley says.

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