Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US Senate: Fear of Things Nuclear Drives Policy

Today, two hearings took place in the US Senate dealing with the difficult politics of nuclear power generation:

First, in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, testimony was given on Bingaman's nuclear waste management bill (S. 3469*: Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012.) The bill is based on the recommendations of the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Brent Scowcroft, co-chairman of that commission, was one of the experts testifying. According to independent analysis, the probability that this bill will become law is only ~3%.
(* / "A bill to establish a new organization to manage nuclear waste, provide a consensual process for siting nuclear waste facilities, ensure adequate funding for managing nuclear waste, and for other purposes.")

Second, in the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair and other Commission members were questioned about the NRC’s progress in ensuring nuclear power plant safety, while incorporating lessons learned from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster into new safety systems and procedures.

In both cases, the material discussed in these hearings seems to have been an outcome of anxieties expressed by members of the general public about the safety of, in the first case, procedures for the storage of spent nuclear fuel and, in the second case, the nuclear power generation process itself; i.e., when faced by the possibility of natural disasters which go "beyond the design basis."

Members of the general public, who seem to hold the view that zero risk is an attainable goal for nuclear power generation devices and procedures, continue to impede the development of a sensible national policy for nuclear waste disposal. This, in turn, complicates the attempt to continue to operate existing nuclear reactors, and to construct new reactors.

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