Government’s Latest Nuclear Waste Plan Creates More Problems Than Solutions

Jan. 11, 2013

Government’s Latest Nuclear Waste Plan Creates More Problems Than Solutions

Statement of Allison Fisher, Outreach Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Jan. 11, 2013

The Department of Energy’s “Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste,” sent today to Congress, is ill-conceived and risky. Central to the government’s strategy is a plan to move radioactive waste to centralized interim storage sites until a location for a national geological repository can be established.

More than 170 national and local organizations from all 50 states reject the core of this plan. (View the organizations’ Principles on Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/principlessafeguarding2009.pdf.)

Centralized “interim” storage creates de facto permanent waste sites and unnecessary risks to the public without solving the fundamental public health and security threats posed by current on-site storage.

While on-site storage is not a permanent solution, it is the best medium-term option for addressing the serious and urgent security and safety threats posed by current irradiated fuel storage. We have called for safeguarding irradiated fuel at reactor sites while we look for a long-term management alternative. These safeguards include reducing the amount of irradiated fuel assemblies in spent fuel pools – 75 percent of spent fuel is packed into cooling pools that are beyond capacity and lack proper containment – and transferring this waste to more secure, on-site storage facilities.

Moving our country’s stockpile of radioactive waste to interim storage sites would increase the total number of nuclear waste sites, as nuclear power plants would still have to store waste too hot to transport. In addition, it would create transportation risks; would increase the cost of managing nuclear waste; and would potentially place the burden of waste storage on low-income communities of color located near existing Department of Energy sites and Native American communities, which typically have been targeted for radioactive waste storage sites due to weaker regulatory requirements and dire economic situations.

Transporting 68,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste to interim storage sites is not a valid response to our nuclear waste problem. The primary focus of the administration should be resolving the glaring safety and security issues surrounding nuclear waste storage at our country’s 72 nuclear power plants, not creating new issues.