On January 26, 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (“Blue Ribbon Commission”) released a Report to the Secretary of Energy recommending a plan on multiple topics related to U.S. nuclear waste disposal.  The federal commission, created by President Obama, was tasked with finding solutions to the political impasse related to the use of the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada.  Yucca Mountain is opposed by interests in Nevada as well as nuclear power opponents. 

Yucca Mountain was financed with a surcharge on U.S. electricity bills and nets the government approximately $750 million annually.  The Blue Ribbon Commission recommended keeping the money in private trust accounts instead of the federal Nuclear Waste Fund.  Congress has been using the Fund to offset the budget deficit.  There is a balance in the Fund of nearly $27 billion which the Blue Ribbon Commission said was caught in a “web of budget rules.”  The Commission’s Report also addressed the siting of future nuclear waste management facilities, the transport and storage of spent fuel and high-level waste, options for waste disposal, institutional arrangements for managing spent nuclear fuel and high level wastes, reactor and fuel cycle technologies, and international considerations.  The Blue Ribbon Commission did not address the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site or the appropriate role of nuclear power as an energy source for the U.S.

The report recommends the following specific goals, as well as the legislative changes to make them possible:

  1. A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.  
  2. A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed. 
  3. Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.
  4. Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities. 
  5. Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.  
  6. Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.  
  7. Support for continued U.S. innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.  
  8. Active U.S. leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concerns.

The Yucca Mountain waste repository facility has been a topic of national debate since being selected as the best site for a national waste repository by Congress in 1987.  In 2010, the Obama administration halted development of the repository and created the Blue Ribbon Commission to examine issues regarding nuclear waste disposal in general.   

The Blue Ribbon Commission acknowledges the political stalemate and seeks to find a way to move beyond it, stating that “… the core difficulty remains what it has always been: finding a way to site these inherently controversial facilities and to conduct the waste management program in a manner that allows all stakeholders, but most especially host states, tribes and communities, to conclude that their interests have been adequately protected and their well-being enhanced—not merely sacrificed or overridden by the interests of the country as a whole.” 

To view the full report, click here.