We must summon will to implement policy on managing spent nuclear fuel
I believe that nuclear electric generation should remain an important part of our energy mix in the future. It is safe, reliable, and green. However, Joshua Miller’s piece on the US failure to deal with spent nuclear fuel is on target: While the policy associated with managing nuclear waste exists, as a nation we have not shown the public or political will to implement that policy (“Big waste: Reactors leave expensive problem behind,” Page A1, Feb. 1).
The waste should be buried in a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. We should impose a moratorium on the construction of any new fission-based nuclear power plants until the license application is back on track at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Congress approves the funding for construction of a repository, and construction begins.
This may seem Draconian, but it is not. With an identified site and a policy road map in place, what is required is the will to go forward. That could happen in a fraction of the time required to design, build, and commission a new nuclear power plant. There are technical and social challenges that can be solved (the latter with the involvement of social scientists), but the major obstacles have been political, and they remain so.
The writer, a former member of the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (2002-2010), is professor emeritus in the department of materials science and engineering and the nuclear engineering department at MIT. He is currently a senior fellow at the consulting firm Exponent.
Industry’s problems are rooted in the technology’s toxic nature
For 40 years, the nuclear industry has blamed its many failures on tiny (but strangely powerful) bands of selfish not-in-my-backyard forces. The industry’s problems, however, are deeply rooted in the nature of the technology itself.
Using nuclear power to make electricity leaves physical residues of such toxicity and longevity that there is no place safe or deep enough to put them. Those who today bemoan the presence of irradiated nuclear fuel rods on the Massachusetts oceanfront should reflect on the wisdom of building a reactor there in the first place.
As the Globe reports, litigation may protect the nuclear industry from liability for the radioactive waste it made. Legal maneuvers, however, cannot find a solution to the very real problem of what to do with it.