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We said it…Did DOE hear?

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Idahoans packed a Department of Energy meeting in Boise and our comments showed we know a lot and care a lot about nuclear waste accumulation. Well done. We’ll no doubt need to keep speaking up – it’s so hard for the DOE to hear.

Over the spring and summer, the Department of Energy held eight public meetings on its new, integrated waste management plan to find a volunteer to take commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF) for “interim” storage. About 600 people attended all the public meetings combined. Boise was the smallest city to host a meeting, but more than 200 people attended the meeting here. Nearly all told the DOE that nuclear waste should be stored where it’s generated and that Idaho is a non-consent state that will not volunteer for more nuclear waste.

Now the DOE has released a draft report on the public meetings and written comments. (Meeting videos are here; written comments are here.) We have until Sunday, October 30, to give additional input. Here are some things you might want to say even if you said the very same thing in July.

Overall, the draft report, which relies on direct quotes from participants, does a fair job of capturing what was said and written. But there’s no breakdown by region, even though 90% of US commercial spent nuclear fuel is east of the 100th meridian and most sites mentioned for storage are to the west. There’s also no indication if the length of discussion in the draft reflects the number of comments about any given topic.

Far more troubling is that the DOE doesn’t engage with or even reflect on any of the comments. In fact, the DOE may not even have heard them, since its future plans don’t seem to have been built on what was said. The DOE’s already made one significant change to its plan entirely unrelated to public input. At the very outset of the process, two corporations in west Texas and eastern New Mexico volunteered for temporary commercial SNF storage. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives them licenses, their proposals will fall under the federal procurement system and will have nothing to do with community consent. That pretty much destroys the notion that the program will be “integrated.”

The report’s “Look Ahead” section, which takes two of its 83 pages, does not even give a nod to the fact that every meeting included people who expressed distrust of the DOE and recommended that the entire program to manage nuclear waste be taken away from the agency that creates it. Instead, the section reads as if the launching pad is clear and all systems go. The DOE intends to release – by the end of December – an initial draft of the consent-based siting process and is evidently already engaging with “stakeholders,” “communities,” and “other sources” to design it outside of a visible public process. At the same time, the DOE plans to release draft “considerations” for siting waste facilities, though it’s not clear what kind of input it’s seeking from outside the agency.

Ultimately, spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste will have to be removed from the human biosphere and that can only happen if people consent. In the meantime, the waste should stay where it is and the federal government should not muddy the waters with half-hearted initiatives.

Integrated Waste Treatment Unit

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