Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

Life After Yucca

Reviving hope for spent-fuel storage.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2010

administration of Gov. Mike Leavitt, strongly and successfully opposed the project. Apparently as a result of this opposition, two agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior—the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management—rejected filings related to the project in September 2006. 13 However, a recent federal court decision has re-opened the case, overturning the Interior Department’s decisions and ordering their reconsideration. 14

Opposition to the project has continued in Utah from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) and the five members of the state’s Congressional delegation in Washington. Among the objections to the Skull Valley site, opponents argue it’s located too close to an Air Force test and training range—even though the existing EnergySolutions site at Clive is actually closer to the range. But more broadly, opponents express a strong belief that once wastes would be shipped to Utah, they’d never be removed. The delegation argues that risks of storage should be borne by the states that have benefited from nuclear power, at least until a permanent repository is built.

Unlike the success stories at WIPP, Fernald and Hanford, no significant federal, state or local negotiation process has been undertaken that might resolve the conflict over Skull Valley. Although the tribe favors the project, because of the financial benefits it would obtain, progress seems unlikely without greater involvement of the broader community and the state.

The Path Forward

The examples of success and failure suggest some general principles essential to the future siting of spent nuclear fuel facilities—whether for interim or permanent storage.

Incentives: The WIPP demonstrates the importance of economic incentives in siting. In Carlsbad, jobs were critically needed for its survival as a community. The facility now employs about one-third of the local work force, and the federal government provided $300 million over 15 years for highways. The Carlsbad experience shows that such incentives as good jobs and contributions to infrastructure can persuade a community to welcome facilities—and perhaps to bid on them as they did in Sweden—as an alternative to the federally mandated process that failed at Yucca Mountain.

A series of financial incentives was offered in Nevada to make the Yucca Mountain project more palatable. But even if other complex issues could be overcome, much greater incentives would be needed to gain state support, particularly given the permanent nature of the planned facility.

Local involvement : Local voices are tremendously important—especially because public perceptions of nuclear risks are disproportionate to actual risks. Education can lead to more rational conclusions, as Stanford Prof. Fishkin demonstrated in his work on deliberative democracy. Such collaborative processes will be instrumental to the success of future facility siting.

Likewise, DOE found that when it formed and listened to local advisory boards, relationships with the local community vastly improved, and more cost-effective solutions emerged to address major problems. At Fernald, rather than having to spend billons to ship wastes to Nevada, local storage of wastes was accepted at much more reasonable costs and risks.

At the WIPP, local advisory boards gave the community the opportunity for participation and gaining