Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: The High Level Nuclear Waste Disposal Challenge

by Matt Rosenberg September 3rd, 2010

On my latest regular weekly KOMO-AM 1000 segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, Wednesday Sept. 1, I spoke with co-anchor Nancy Barrick and guest anchor Bill Rice about the challenge the U.S. faces in developing a policy for long term disposal of high level nuclear waste. The conversation stemmed from a white paper published at the Ferret site. Here’s the audio of the radio segment. The transcript follows.

Nancy Barrick: “And kind of a hot topic for us today. Matt Rosenberg of is on the news line, and Matt, you’re zeroing in on a very thorny question, the storage of nuclear waste.”

Matt Rosenberg: “That’s correct. Good morning, Nancy and Bill. I was looking at some recent documents coming out of Washington State, on this very issue, and was compelled to dig a little further. So I’ve produced a white paper that tries to give an overview. We’ve got it posted at our Public Data Ferret site. And nuclear power’s going to remain an important source of electricity in the U.S. There are more than 100 reactors operating here now, applications are pending for 33 more. Worldwide, there’s more than triple that number of reactors in business, and major growth expected. President Obama strongly supports nuclear power, but the problem, as we know especially well in Washington state because of Hanford, is plutonium waste. It has a half-life of 24,000 years, and we haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. There was this big federal effort that, believe it or not, took 26 years, and they spent $10 billion studying what to do, and they decided they would stick it under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But now that’s off the table. President Obama doesn’t want that, and so we’re back to Square One with a Blue Ribbon Commission that’s investigating what to do, for the Energy Secretary.”

Bill Rice: “And if the U.S. is to move ahead with nuclear power, like China, which is building dozens of new power plants, then there’s got to be a place to put the spent fuel.”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, there is and right now, Energy Secretary Steven Chu says he wants to investigate new technologies such as reprocessing, which is not proven at all yet. It is safe for now to put it in dry casks above ground, so that’s mostly what we’re doing. But here’s where it gets really interesting, guys. Attorney General Rob McKenna of Washingtoon state, the state of South Carolina, and a national utility commissioners association sued to block the federal government’s decision to forget about Yucca Mountain, and so far they’re winning. A panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it can’t be taken off the table, only Congress has the authority to do that. So it may be that we still end up with a deep geologic repository like Yucca Mountain, but in the meantime we’ve got all this stuff at Hanford, at the Savannah River plant, and mostly, stuff coming from commercial nuclear facilities. And nuclear’s part of the mix whether everyone likes that or not. So, it’s tough.

Nancy Barrick: Alright. Well thanks for an update on that thorny issue. Thank you, Matt Rosenberg. If you want to link to Matt’s web site, go to Click on Nine to Noon.

2 Responses to “Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: The High Level Nuclear Waste Disposal Challenge”

  1. [...] “The High Level Nuclear Waste Disposal Challenge,” 9/1/10 [...]

  2. [...] EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Nuclear power will remain an important source of electricity in the U.S. More than 100 reactors are operating in U.S. now, and applications are pending for 33 more. Outside the U.S. 337 reactors are in business, with another 150 expected by 2020. President Obama strongly supports nuclear power. There will be 153 million metric tons of high level nuclear waste in the U.S. by 2055, up from 70,000 metric tons in 2009. The Yucca Mountain deep geologic repository for high level nuclear waste is in limbo. A Blue Ribbon Advisory Commission to Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take a new look at policies for high level nuclear waste. The result might be a recommendation for continued dry cask storage now, and perhaps salt domes later. But The Yucca Mountain tussle is not over yet. A panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently upheld a legal quest to keep the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain licensing application alive, although D.O.E. at the president’s direction seeks to withdraw it. The preliminary ruling is that only Congress has authority to rescind the application. Some experts posit that the Energy Department must rebuild public trust around high level nuclear waste disposal. This view is credible, given long-standing mismanagement of the clean-up at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, and the decades-long Yucca Mountain imbroglio. In devising a new path forward, Secretary Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission and Congressional decision-makers should ensure effectiveness, cost and risk assessments of various policy alternatives are coherently conveyed to the stakeholders, and that a public participation process is designed to draw on the aggregated perspectives of constituencies far broader than those most intimately and loudly engaged. Radio segment on KOMO-AM 1000, Seattle, 9/1/10 [...]