How To Find A New Nuclear Waste Site? Woo A Town

Without a centralized national repository for nuclear waste, the radioactive material is currently being kept at various sites across the country. Above, large concrete canisters, each holding 14 55-gallon drums of waste, are loaded on a truck in 2005 in Richland, Wash., where they were later shipped to a facility in New Mexico.



ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: And I'm Robert Siegel.

A panel of experts today set forth a plan to store thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste. Most of it is spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. It was supposed to go to a repository in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, but the government has abandoned that plan.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on the latest effort to find a home for America's nuclear waste.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Yucca Mountain was largely done in by Nevadans who didn't want their state to be the country's nuclear waste dump. Some also questioned how geologically secure the underground storage site would be.

Now, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has a new plan. Commission member General Brent Scowcroft says it hinges on convincing the public that a new site can be safe.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: It's psychological. People don't understand nuclear waste. The problem itself is solvable.

JOYCE: Not only must the new repository pass geological muster, it has to win local approval. Scowcroft says this worked for the military's dump site in New Mexico's salt caverns.

SCOWCROFT: Salt is one of the most attractive medium for permanent disposal. And we've found, in visiting there, that the people of the region generally are supportive of taking on additional burden.

JOYCE: The commission, though, wasn't asked to pick a site, just set up a process to find one. For decades, the country's commercial waste has been sitting in temporary steel and cement casks at nuclear power plants. The new plan would finally gather all that waste into interim holding sites while a permanent geologic dump is built. That would require moving lots of radioactive waste around the country.

Commission member Lee Hamilton, former congressman from Indiana, says that's already being done safely with military waste. One other thing. The commission would fire the Department of Energy. They want an independent organization to be in charge this time.

LEE HAMILTON: They have a record of not dealing with the problem successfully. They have lost credibility to do it.

JOYCE: The nuclear industry definitely wants a permanent dump site. Alex Flint is vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

ALEX FLINT: As we go out and talk in communities about building new plants, about relicensing new plants, one of the principal issues they have is what are you going to do with the used fuel? And we feel an obligation to solve that.

JOYCE: So, next up, create an organization to find a dump site and prove the waste will be safe there for hundreds of thousands of years.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.