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Spent-Fuel Fedcorp

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s best answer for the nuclear waste dilemma.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2011

in effect, last forever.

The BRC held hearings at locations that illustrate both success and failure at siting similar facilities. Their investigations took the BRC to Europe and across the United States, and included testimony from many experts on siting issues—as well as from those who express grave concerns and fears about such siting. Almost universally, public officials—from mayors to governors to state legislators—demand a say in approving such sites. Some demand a binding veto. Others ask for a permitting role. Some want the Congress to dictate a site, while others urge a competition from local communities and states for a site with huge financial bonuses—as was the case in Sweden and Finland, where there has been permanent repository siting success (see “ Life After Yucca ,” November 2010) .

In any case, a spent-fuel fedcorp seems likely to succeed only if it can develop a new, collaborative approach to siting nuclear waste facilities. Also, to the degree the fedcorp considers interim storage options, it would need some way to establish credibility that “interim” isn’t a euphemism for “permanent” (see “Tough Questions for Fedcorp”) .

In the Plan D for Spent Nuclear Fuel report—produced by a group of academics, led by Prof. Clifford Singer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—a key recommendation is that “every shipment of spent nuclear fuel material should be accompanied by a payment into a Permanent Fund, to be held by the recipient state as long as that material stays in the state… States would receive interest earnings on the Permanent Fund balance beyond any needed to maintain the minimum balance.”

The Plan D report also argues against a single long-term storage site— e.g., the so-called “monopoly” approach that failed at Yucca Mountain. “A monopoly situation would generate tension within the state and with the federal government over whether the state had obtained adequate compensation,” Prof. Singer wrote. “This could lead to delays or even failure of the whole project again.” He suggested that a more successful process might involve about six finalist states, competing for two or preferably three repository site licenses—with an equal number of spent-fuel aging facilities to be licensed at repository sites.

Clean Slate

If the BRC recommends the federal government create a fedcorp to take over the process of siting a repository for spent nuclear fuel, it could establish a clean slate for resolving America’s nuclear waste dilemma. Properly structured, a fedcorp would allow a more rational and sustainable approach to the problem.

However, in order for it to succeed, the mission of such a fedcorp must be clearly defined, its powers carefully delineated, and its financing constructed so as to avoid the delays that have hampered DOE efforts to date.

A spent-fuel fedcorp would face a panoply of complexities in management, funding, legislative authority and structure, as well as legal and financial liabilities—and that’s before it even considers the technical and operational issues of siting, building and running nuclear waste facilities. This combination of complexities and difficulties has stymied progress by the DOE, but a dedicated fedcorp that’s more flexible