DOE to work on relationships as waste programme develops

16 September 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a new report based on public feedback to help inform its consent-based process to identify sites for the consolidated interim storage of the USA's used nuclear fuel. The department said it will work to build trust and relationships as the process goes forward.

(Image: DOE)

The DOE issued a request for information (RFI) in December 2021, in which it asked the public for feedback on the consent-based siting process itself; removing barriers for meaningful participation, especially for groups and communities who have not historically been well-represented in such conversations; and the role of interim storage as a part of the USA's waste management system.

The new report summarises and analyses the responses from the 225 submissions the RFI received, as well as responses to an earlier request for comment on the Draft Consent-Based Siting Process for Consolidated Storage and Disposal Facilities for Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste released by DOE in 2017.

Submissions were received from a wide variety of commenters, including tribal, state, and local governments; non-governmental organisations; members of academia and industry; other stakeholders; and individual commenters, DOE said. It has made all of the comments available in their entirety.

The report identified several key themes amongst the responses it received, including issues related to distrust of DOE and of the federal government’s nuclear waste management efforts more broadly.  Another key theme was an emphasis on "fairness" - both in the way the siting process itself is conducted and in terms of outcomes from the siting process. The submissions also revealed "strong differences of opinion about the need for and merits of nuclear energy technology," and also about whether the federal government should pursue consolidated interim storage for commercial used fuel.

"DOE recognises that a successful consent-based siting process for a federal consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will require strong and trusting relationships - built on a foundation of collaboration, two-way communication, information sharing, and accountability," the report notes.

To build and sustain these relationships, it said, its next steps will be: to implement congressional direction in a way that maximises the potential benefits of consolidated interim storage; address the current "deficit of trust" in DOE by making internal and external changes; ensuring that the consent-based siting process is fair and inclusive; focusing on fairness in siting outcomes by putting communities' needs and well-being at the centre of the siting process; addressing transportation issues and related planning needs; and "rigorously" applying safety, security, and other criteria in all aspects of the siting process, including by supporting communities that wish to conduct independent studies.

The RFI was seen as a tangible step towards a restart of a US programme for the management of used nuclear fuel after plans for a federal repository at Yucca Mountain were dropped in 2009. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminated licensing activities for the repository in 2010-11.

The USA's 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act made DOE responsible for providing a disposal site for nuclear fuel by 1998 and began collecting funds from utility contributions to pay for it. With no disposal site forthcoming, nuclear power plant operators had to make their own arrangements to store used fuel, such as setting up dry storage casks. The DOE has been forced in court to repay utilities' costs from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which contains tens of billions of dollars ring-fenced for used fuel management only.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News