Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future a Mixed Bag.

July 12, 2010: The DOE's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, Reactor and Fuel Cycle Subcommittee, held a public meeting today at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in Idaho Falls, ID.

The meeting was co-chaired by Prof. Per Peterson, from UC Berkeley's Dept. of Nuclear Eng., and ex-United States Senator Pete Domenici, from New Mexico. Its start was delayed for two hours, until 10:30 AM, because of a local electrical power failure.

Six formal talks had been scheduled for the day, ranging from the first, "Nuclear Energy R&D Roadmap Overview", by the DOE's Ass't Sec., Office of Nuclear Energy, Warren "Pete" Miller, to the last, "Transmutation R&D", by ANL's Bob Hill. A live video webcast was provided for internet viewers. Viewgraph summaries of all the talks are available online at The Blue Ribbon Commission is sponsoring two other subcommittees; viz., Disposal Subcommittee, which met publicly on July 7, 2010 in Washington, DC; Transportation Storage Subcommittee, which has not yet scheduled a public meeting.

In contrast to talks presented five days ago at the Disposal Subcommittee, talks today at the Reactor and Fuel Cycle Subcommittee meeting were entirely technical in content. The absence of any socially relevant content from these talks was remarked upon approvingly by several private citizens during the Public Comment Period. It was even suggested by more than one commenter that the most important issues of nuclear power in America today were technical or scientific in nature; that the desirability of nuclear power as a future energy source was now a settled question, with an overwhelming majority of US citizens having a positive view; and that any attempts to mix "political" concerns into future discussions of nuclear power in America should be resisted.

Of course, opinions such as these are themselves political in nature.

Then, politics coming again to the fore, in the final moments of the meeting ex-Senator Domenici remarked that the talks which had just been presented were testament to the high quality of work being performed today by certain [for-profit] groups and .... (partly inaudible) [evidence that today's for-profit DOE management contractors were vastly superior to yesterday's not-for-profits.]

More interesting to me were the presentations made five days ago at the Disposal Subcommittee meeting; viz., Approximately three quarters of those talks were given by representatives of local government entities, either in Nevada or New Mexico. Typical of these presenters was John Gervers, Consultant to Clark County, Nevada's Nuclear Waste Division. Mr. Gervers said:

"While good science and technical proficiency are the keys to successful development of a nuclear waste disposal system, the siting of a nuclear waste facility depends equally on public confidence in the safety of the facility and the competence of the managing agency. Technical expertise cannot substitute for lack of public confidence. Both are essential components of a nuclear waste disposal system, and require equal attention from policymakers, planners and implementers of such a system. The key lesson to be learned from the Nevada experience is that public acceptance of a siting process is an essential ingredient for success of any nuclear waste storage or disposal system."

"There are three elements of a successful relationship with a potential host community.
1. Respect for the concerns of the community
2. Acknowledgement of the potential health and safety risks of the facility
3. Acknowledgement of the potential economic risks or benefits from the facility"

"Surveys by the State of Nevada and Clark County have consistently revealed that over 70 percent of Nevada citizens are opposed to the siting of a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain."

These words of Mr. Gervers are a cogent expression of a point-of-view which holds that the public must be fully involved in the making of future decisions relating to the siting of nuclear waste disposal facilities. It seems to me that there is also no good reason why the public should not be more involved in making key decisions about the future of nuclear power in America, generally. Such socially relevant considerations were absent, however, from the meeting in Idaho Falls, on July 12.

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