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Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste 3

Steven Chu
Publication Date


The Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste is a framework for moving toward a sustainable program to deploy an integrated system capable of transporting, storing, and disposing of used nuclear fuel1 and high-level radioactive waste from civilian nuclear power generation, defense, national security and other activities.

The Strategy addresses several important needs. First, it serves as a statement of Administration policy regarding the importance of addressing the disposition of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste; it lays out the overall design of a system to address that issue; and it outlines the reforms needed to implement such a system. Second, it presents the Administration’s response to the final report and recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (“BRC”). It also responds to direction in the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, to develop a strategy for the management of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste in response to the BRC’s recommendations. Third, this strategy represents an initial basis for discussions among the Administration, Congress and other stakeholders on a sustainable path forward for disposal of nuclear waste.

The Administration endorses the key principles that underpin the BRC’s recommendations. The BRC’s report and recommendations provide a starting point for this Strategy, which translates many of the BRC’s principles into an actionable framework within which the Administration and Congress can build a national program for the management and disposal of the nation’s used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.2 The BRC report and the Strategy build on the body of physical and social science work completed during the prior decades and benefit from the lessons learned not only from our nation’s experiences, but also from those of other countries.

This Strategy includes a phased, adaptive, and consent-based approach to siting and implementing a comprehensive management and disposal system. At its core, this Strategy endorses a waste management system containing a pilot interim storage facility; a larger, full-scale interim storage facility; and a geologic repository in a timeframe that demonstrates the federal commitment to addressing the nuclear waste issue, builds capability to implement a program to meet that commitment, and prioritizes the acceptance of fuel from shut-down reactors. A consent-based siting process could result in more than one storage facility and/or repository, depending on the outcome of discussions with host communities; the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) envisaged the need for multiple repositories as a matter of equity between regions of the country. As a starting place, this Strategy is focused on just one of each facility.

With the appropriate authorizations from Congress, the Administration currently plans to implement a program over the next 10 years that:
• Sites, designs and licenses, constructs and begins operations of a pilot interim storage facility by 2021 with an initial focus on accepting used nuclear fuel from shut-down reactor sites;
• Advances toward the siting and licensing of a larger interim storage facility to be available by 2025 that will have sufficient capacity to provide flexibility in the waste management system and allows for acceptance of enough used nuclear fuel to reduce expected government liabilities; and
• Makes demonstrable progress on the siting and characterization of repository sites to facilitate the availability of a geologic repository by 2048.

Full implementation of this program will require legislation to enable the timely deployment of the system elements noted above. Legislation should also include the requirements for consent-based siting; a reformed funding approach that provides sufficient and timely resources; and the establishment of a new organization to implement the program, the structure of which should balance greater autonomy with the need for continued Executive and Legislative branch oversight. The Administration looks forward to engaging Congress on comprehensive legislation to move forward on this important national responsibility.

In the meantime, the Administration, through the Department of Energy (DOE), is undertaking activities within existing Congressional authorization to plan for the eventual transportation, storage, and disposal of used nuclear fuel. Activities range from examining waste management system design concepts, to developing plans for consent-based siting processes, to conducting research and development on the suitability of various geologies for a repository. These activities are designed to not limit the options of either the Administration or Congress and could be transferred to the new waste management and disposal organization when it is established.