Can a broadly based committee resolve the nuclear waste dilemma?
John Bewick is a former secretary of environmental affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and director, verification and validation services, with Enviroplan Consulting. A frequent contributor to Public Utilities Fortnightly, Bewick, who holds a graduate degree in nuclear science, is covering the nuclear Blue Ribbon Commission’s work on an ongoing basis for Fortnightly and Fortnightly.com.
In January, the Obama administration appointed a high-powered Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) to address one of the nation’s great continuing dilemmas, the management and disposition of nuclear waste.
Delivering his charge to commission members at their organizational meeting, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu set forth their challenge, and gave the commission a two-year time frame to work with. The commission isn’t tasked to site a repository, but rather to look at the whole nuclear fuel cycle, and at what technologies might be available in coming years that will affect that cycle. He wants commission members to review how things should be set up as technology progresses, both to reduce the amount of or the toxicity of the material separated from spent fuel, and to determine how to dispose of what won’t be wanted, the residual material, in the future, both near term and long term. He also asked the BRC to recommend changes to the decision process.