When the U.S. Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) issued its final report to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in January 2012, among its eight key recommendations was the following recommendation regarding consent-based siting for new consolidated storage facilities for SNF.
“A new consent-based approach is needed for the siting of future nuclear waste management facilities, including storage facilities.”
To support its recommendation, BRC drew a contrast between the unsuccessful effort to site the Yucca Mountain geologic repository in the State of Nevada with the successful effort to site the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in the State of New Mexico. The following contrasts are significant:
- “At Yucca Mountain, the initial siting process was short-circuiting tainting all subsequent federal-state interactions over the project” – COMPARED TO – “broad local support and state engagement existed from the outset at WIPP”
- “Lack of appropriated funds to complete the Yucca Mountain project milestones on time was a problem” — COMPARED TO — “continued and unwaivering local support for WIPP helped to sustain the project during periods when federal and state agencies had to work through their disagreements.”
- “Overly prescriptive requirements and rigid guidelines for Yucca Mountain made it difficult to respond to stakeholder concerns” — COMPARED TO — “negotiations and confidence-building measures at WIPP helped to allay concerns and allowed the project to go forward.”
The BRC Report in Chapter 6 also included the following suggestions to implement the recommendation for consent-based siting:
- “The process itself should be phased, flexible and adaptive, and should produce decisions that are responsive to new information and new technical, social or political developments. Organizations should be involved early in the process for siting the facility and develop a single ‘safety case’ document that collects all relevant information supportive of the safety of the proposed facility at the proposed site.”
- “Affected communities should have an opportunity to decide whether to accept facility siting decisions and retain significant local control. The process should start with expressions of interest from a large variety of communities that can offer a potentially suitable environment for the type of facility under consideration.”
- “All stakeholders should have an opportunity to understand key decisions and engage the process in a meaningful way. The ‘safety case’ should be easily accessible to all concerned stakeholders and to local, tribal and state government representatives. Meaningful consultation is needed with stakeholders to inform them of the status of the siting process and to make needed adjustments.”
- “Key decisions should be revisited and modified as necessary along the way rather than being pre-determined. The ‘safety case’ should be updated as needed to provide an input to the decisions throughout the facility development process.”
- “The public should have confidence that all facilities meet rigorous, objective and consistently-applied standards of safety and environmental protection. A set of basic, initial siting criteria should be designed to ensure that sites are safe, suitable and appropriate. As the siting process continues, additional sets of criteria should be applied to identify suitable sites for further consideration. Any future site the meets all regulatory requirements and has been selected with local-level and state-level consent should require no additional approval, including congressional approval.”
- “The consent-based siting process should be governed by partnership agreements or legally-enforceable agreements between the implementing organization and host states, tribes and local communities. Reasonable milestones for major phases of program development and implementation should be identified since they are important to keep the program focused. States and local tribes should retain or be delegated direct authority over aspects of regulation, permitting and operations that is helpful in protecting their interests and gaining their confidence. For new SNF consolidated storage facilities, the timeframe for siting and developing the facility should be on the order of 5 to 10 years.”
Finally, the BRC recognized that the consent-based siting process includes the delivery of real benefits (economic and otherwise) to the local community, affected Indian tribes and the state. BRC suggested that any such incentives must be provided in ways that are generous, creative and attentive to their symbolic value. In addition to financial incentives, BRC acknowledged the value of local preferences in hiring and the purchase of goods and services, infrastructure investments, co-located research, development, and demonstration facilities, and preferences in siting other federal projects. In sum, BRC suggested that the social and economic well-being of communities affected by SNF storage facilities needs to be considered and supported with federal financial incentives.