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NPRE Professor Clifford Singer and his colleagues will spend the summer months trying to bridge the gap between the findings of the federal Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future and a final solution for the safe disposal of nuclear reactor fuel discharges. Sponsored by a $50,000 Carnegie Corp. grant, Singer and colleagues will host briefings in Washington, D.C., for policy-makers to offer expert analysis and facilitate discussion in the decision-making process. The researchers have posed questions regarding the BRC report that was submitted in January to the U.S. Secretary of Energy and now waits Congressional and Obama Administration action.
The BRC report includes these recommendations:
Singer has five suggestions to bridge the gap between the BRC report and what needs to be done to implement its recommendations:
Possible solutions: States will need positive incentives for identifying sites, preliminary license submissions, final license submissions, initial operations and continued acceptance of fuel casks. Host states could be compensated for costs involved in the first stages and be permitted to keep funds collected that are over and above costs. States that continue to accept fuel casks can charge market price for that service.
If no states choose to participate, the federal government could circumvent the states by appealing directly to local communities or tribes without incentive compensation to the states.
Possible solution: If only one state is willing to site a permanent spent fuel repository and that state will not be forced to do so, then that state will be in a monopoly position to charge whatever it wants for taking in spent nuclear fuel. To avoid this situation, at least two repositories should be licensed. To increase the likelihood of that, the target number should be three.
Possible solution: The existing generic standards of 10,000 years should be applied to all repositories (including if Nevada volunteers Yucca Mountain). This default approach still leaves an enormous discrepancy between much larger avoidable radiation exposure from other sources in terms of cost per unit exposure reduction. Each host state should be allowed to let their internal political process dictate more stringent standards, on the understanding that associated additional costs will reduce the net income to the state.
Possible solution: To avoid the creation of a new bureaucracy, the proposed federal corporation’s role should be limited to dispersing funds to states having qualified proposals for the initial qualifying steps, and ranking the quality of proposals to determine which states can proceed to the next stage. The federal government should continue to oversee and enforce minimum standards for safety, security, environmental impact, and financial soundness. States could be responsible for performing or contracting for proposal preparation and facility construction and operation.
Possible solution:Matching an inflation-adjusted version of the revenue stream previously going to the federal Nuclear Waste Fund with a comparable amount of funding for disposing defense wastes should allow a staged process to be funded without accessing the pre-existing Nuclear Waste Fund balance. The federal corporation should distribute the money to spent fuel management projects approved by states. Annually unused funds should be held in Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), with any eventual excess funds returned to utilities or their ratepayers.
Singer maintains that a fully functional long-term spent fuel management system can be accomplished economically, without any reprocessing for over a century if ever. He and his colleagues have produced “Plan D,” which allows for most spent fuel in dry casks to be stored above ground “until it becomes clearer whether reprocessing will precede permanent disposal.”
The United States could become a world leader in the fielding of standardized and well-instrumented dry storage casks, and of transporting and disposing over-packs. The resulting production volume in an internationalized market could help reduce costs of alternatives to systems incorporating spent fuel reprocessing. The United States could take a lead in demonstrating how transportation to and safe and secure maintenance of such facilities can be accomplished at large scale using dry cask storage. The United States then would be able to negotiate ways to prevent countries from indefinitely managing spent nuclear fuel amidst the temptation to reprocess.
NPRE senior design course students have produced a manuscript giving examples of how spent fuel can be transported, stored, and eventually disposed without reprocessing. Spent fuel management is also the subject of several NPRE graduate theses.
Along with activities in Washington, D.C., Singer and colleagues will gather input at the state level, primarily in the Midwest. This has multiple purposes. One is to inform state officials and other interested parties about the BRC final draft report and its potential implications for their state. Another is to gather input regarding reasonable incentives from the positions of both exporting states and host states. NPRE nuclear waste management course instructor William Roy is expected to participate in briefings in Springfield, Illinois.
NPRE undergraduate student Robert Geringer is assisting Singer on this project. Geringer has received a Washington Scholar’s Award, and will be working at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., over the summer.