Antinuclear activists don’t like continued storage rule

Several of the usual suspects — including Dr. Mark Cooper, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, and Diane Curran — have banded together to assert their opinion that the NRC’s recently issued NUREG-2157, Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, violates the following provision of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

In connection with applications for licenses to operate production or utilization facilities, the applicant shall state such technical specifications, including information of the amount, kind, and source of special nuclear material required, the place of the use, the specific characteristics of the facility, and such other information as the Commission may, by rule or regulation, deem necessary in order to enable it to find that the utilization or production of special nuclear material will be in accord with the common defense and security and will provide adequate protection to the health and safety of the public. (Emphasis added.)
42 U. S. C. 2231 (Atomic Energy Act of 1954 Section 182 License Applications)

The problem with the contention that the professional antinuclear activists filed with the NRC is that they have a different definition of the words “adequate protection” than most rational people. The NRC Commissioners and the staff analysts have determined, after a great deal of technical study, that storing used nuclear fuel in licensed containers on the earth’s surface under the watchful eyes of licensees with the oversight of professional regulators provides adequate protection to the public.

We have 70 years worth of history that proves safe operation of used fuel storage facilities.

Digging through the legalistic language used in the contention, it seems the underlying basis is that the NRC has previously asserted that their rules have provided assurance of adequate protection by expressing confidence that there would someday be a geologic repository. The activists cannot seem to comprehend is that there is more than one way to assure protection and that historical precedence does not change the original wording and intent of the law.

The contention uses a number of phrases that irk me because they are expressions of opinion couched assertions of fact like “…there is no question that the AEA requires…” or “…will pose an extreme hazard to public health and safety for thousands of years…”

The law directs the NRC to establish rules and regulations that they deem necessary. It does not direct them to lock their decisions into a pattern established by what they have done in the past. It requires commissioners to consider new information, new analysis, and new interpretations of processes that they deem necessary to provide adequate protection.

I’m confident that the courts will uphold the conclusions reached by NUREG-2157. It is the product of thoughtful staff work and careful legal analysis by people who are responsible to the people of the United States to enable the safe use of nuclear energy for the common defense and security in a way that provides adequate protection of public health and safety.

Here is an expanded version of a comment that I posted on an article titled Activists file petition to stop nuke-plant licensing. (Some of the paragraphs below had to be cut to stay within the character limit of the comment field.)

I strongly disagree with Mr. Kamps. We have many good answers for indefinite safe storage of used nuclear material. It’s time to stop allowing people who are professionally engaged in opposing nuclear energy to use “the waste issue” as a trump card that slows development.

We have been safely storing lightly used nuclear fuel material for 70 years. Though I have been researching the topic for more than 20 years, I have yet to find a single documented instance where anyone has been harmed by that activity.

The wild scenarios that antinuclear activists imagine require a future dystopia where people have forgotten how to read warning signs and forgotten how to perform simple preventive and corrective maintenance on concrete and steel containers. If that future does happen, society will have far more important risks to worry about than the much diminished quantity of radioactive isotopes that will be present after many half lives of decay for all but a few of the used fuel components.

The much more likely scenario is that future generations will be smarter than ours because they will know what we know plus what they have learned since we were alive. They will recognize that the “nuclear waste” that we carefully isolated from our environment is valuable raw material that still contains more than 95% of its initial stored potential energy. They will thank us for leaving that resource behind in such accessible locations.

They will also thank us if we more more rapidly towards building and operating more nuclear plants so that we can leave behind additional valuable methane (natural gas), which will remain a useful raw material that should be carefully conserved for the use of our children and great-great-great grand children.

It is incredibly selfish of us to think it is a good idea to keep burning gas so quickly that all proven, probable, possible and speculative resources in the United States will be gone within the life expectance of people who are already alive today.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

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