Refuting Assumptions About Nuclear Waste

The agency responsible for approving the construction of nuclear reactors may no longer be able to rely on its old “build reactors now and worry about radioactive waste later” approach.

Learn more about new challenges to nuclear waste policy.

For decades, nuclear reactors have been built under two assumptions:

  • One day there would be a place to permanently store the lethal waste generated from nuclear power.
  • While the final burial place was being determined, the nuclear waste could be safely stored on-site.

But when it comes to waste that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, assumptions can be a reckless gamble.

A federal court agrees.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that these assumptions are no longer good enough, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to address the shortcomings of the two rules which translate these assumptions into policy — the waste confidence decision and the storage rule.

In response, 24 groups, including Public Citizen, challenging both new reactor licenses and license renewals for existing reactors filed a petition urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions.

On July 8, the NRC voted to suspend a final decision on all new reactor licenses. No doubt this is a short-term win for us.

But the intermediate and long-term implications for nuclear energy and the policies that govern radioactive waste are still unclear.

As these implications unfold, we will continue to keep you updated and when possible provide opportunities to take action toward improving the safety of our country’s mounting stockpile of nuclear waste.

To get more information on the court’s decision, check out the blog post by Allison Fisher of Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program, Will nuclear power continue to hobble along despite its radioactive Achilles’ heel?