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What’s New on Nuclear Waste at the Bipartisan Policy Center

Monday, November 10, 2014

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Since our inception in January of 2014, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Nuclear Waste Initiative has been gathering input regionally on what communities and nuclear waste experts share as common goals and challenges to addressing the country’s nuclear waste issue. We seek to address these challenges with innovative solutions to which the disparate interests who are concerned about nuclear waste can all agree.

In a series of discussions, both private and public, BPC has gleaned some initial useful concepts which we will be studying in greater detail as the project continues. The first of these community discussions occurred at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June. The participants raised the concept that “addressing nuclear waste” means different things to different people, whether it was directing the Department of Energy to follow the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or removing the responsibility for action on nuclear waste from the Department of Energy entirely. Barriers to such actions ranged from congressional inaction to lack of state regulatory authority.

Following the northeast discussion, BPC continued the dialogue at its second event in the southeast at Georgia Tech. With the challenges and successes in nuclear waste management unique to the area, the conversation included similar disparity in a shared definition of “addressing nuclear waste.” It ranged from developing fast reactors and reprocessing to the simple request for even an incremental progress on the issue. The barriers raised included the absence of a “uniquely organized entity” and the challenge of keeping or removing reprocessing from the options to deal with nuclear waste.

Each of the meetings gathered experts with a wide range of views. Despite their opposing viewpoints, some common themes did present themselves. “Addressing nuclear waste” had common meanings to members in support of movement to dry cask storage from wet pool storage as well as the statements that one method of management includes ending nuclear power production to subsequently stop the production of nuclear waste.

In terms of “barriers to success,” participants at both events noted the lack of confidence and leadership on nuclear waste. This is a critical loss and one that will need to be addressed in any cooperative solution. A second common barrier to success was the lack of consensus on definition of “consent-based.” This phrase will need to be studied in depth before true consent can be stablished.

Next week, BPC will host a third conversation on taking action to address nuclear waste in Chicago. We look forward to cooperative and collaborative conversations to define and address these problems. Together, we will find a common thread in the nuclear waste narrative to tackle this growing challenge.