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Do You Consent to the Construction of Long-Term Nuclear Waste Storage in Your Neighborhood?



The Department of Energy is holding a public meeting meeting to assess community attitudes about the local construction of long-term nuclear waste storage facilities.consent-based nuclear waste “system.” The meeting will be held on April 11 at Georgia Tech as one of seven public meetings being held around the country. Atlanta has been chosen presumably because the Savannah River Site has been targeted as a site for long-term nuclear fuel storage and/or processing.

DOE is “planning for an integrated waste management system to transport, store, and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from commercial electricity generation, as well national defense activities.” However, Georgia WAND and our allies believe that before seeking input on consent-based siting, DOE must develop a safer plan and have truly “informed” consent. Existing nuclear plant spent fuel storage facilities are not safe and the DOE’s proposed pilot design models those inadequacies.

DOE’s project is designed to fail without taking the following measures:

  1. Choose the best technology available internationally for interim storage and not rely on U.S. vendors for their technology solutions;
  2. Base decisions on long term safety, not short-term cost savings;
  3. DOE must exceed NRC minimum standards of storage canister thickness in order to avoid radiation leaks and potential explosions;
  4. Provide more information about radioactive waste transportation in terms of costs, technical, and safety issues; and
  5. Examine fuel assemblies inside canisters.

Rather than consent-based siting, DOE efforts and public meetings must be focused on the storage, transport, funding, and state, local and Indian Nation legal authority, and environment justice issues identified in this document. It would be folly for any community to consent to the transportation and storage of high level spent nuclear fuel until all these critical issues are resolved.

A public comment period is open until June 15, 2016. Click here to submit your comments.

If you’re interested in attending or want more info, contact Becky Rafter, Executive Director: 404-524-5999 or becky@georgiawand.org.

What Does Community Consent to a Permanent Radioactive Waste Storage Facility Look Like?  Is it Possible?

Rather than consent-based siting, DOE efforts and public meetings must be focused on the storage, transport, funding, and state, local and Indian Nation legal authority, and environment justice issues identified in this document. It would be folly for any community to consent to the transportation and storage of high level spent nuclear fuel until all these critical issues are resolved.

1  How can the Department ensure that the process for selecting a site is fair? 

Consent based siting seeks to ensure fairness in the distribution of costs, benefits, risks and responsibilities now and in future generations. How, in your view, can fairness be best assured by the process for selecting a site?

1.1 Overall process fairness.

The entire process of setting standards, evaluating proposals, and site selection needs to be transparent, open, public, and democratic.

1.2 Fairness in meetings and hearings.

All meetings and hearings must be public. All proceedings must be recorded and published. DOE needs to ensure easy access to their public meetings and hearings and actively use public comments to improve their processes and plans. They must schedule public meetings and hearings at times and places that are conducive to broad community participation. DOE must provide timely notification to all potentially impacted municipalities, counties, states, and tribal governments. Potentially impacted means anyone who may feel that they are impacted.

1.3 Fairness of consent.

The definition of affected persons needs to be broad, certainly not limited to a host community and adjacent communities.

1.3.1 Informed Consent.

Consent must be based on decision-makers and voters being fully informed.

Of paramount importance is the public's need and right to know immediately when any entity volunteers or inquires about volunteering. This is the only way citizens can determine for themselves whether they are affected and wish to participate in the process.

Affected persons being fully informed requires full disclosure by the Department of Energy of the accident and leakage histories of all of its past and present nuclear waste storage sites. Projected radioactive incidents in regard to a proposed site is material information required for making a decision. Therefore, the DOE must make this information freely available.

Because of the extraordinary and complex risks that would have to be assumed by a hosting community, the DOE must conduct extraordinary outreach to inform the public. DOE needs to use direct mail and telephone contact with all potentially impacted citizens informing them of the issues affecting them.

Fairness in public discourse requires DOE to ensure that equal time and money are spent advising the public of pros and cons of hosting a storage site, including informational messages and advertising related to any referenda.

Informed consent requires that detailed quantitative standards be finalized before any siting proposals are accepted. All requirements that a site needs to satisfy must be clearly defined. All standards and evaluations must be based on valid, up-to-date scientific knowledge, and engineering best practices. The standards need to go through a public review and comment process. Once finalized, the site standards and evaluation process and criteria must be set forth in the request for proposals. Setting, modifying, or waiving standards or granting exemptions for a specific proposed site must not be allowed. In addition, states need to have the legal authority to set higher standards than those of the federal government for nuclear waste storage, transport, and for radioactive emissions.

1.3.2 Democratic consent

To be fair, consent must be democratic. Consent means the willing approval by governments and a majority of the people of each state, county, local government unit, and tribal organization within 100 miles of either a proposed site or within 50 miles of a transportation route to a proposed site.

1.3.3 Escape clause

The contract for hosting a nuclear waste dump needs to be cancelable for cause, including unacceptabe engineering changes, violation of safety standards or provisions, or other non-performance by the Department of Energy or its contractors. Further, it needs to be cancelable if material new information becomes available such that the hosting entity would not have entered into the contract if that information had been known.

1.3.4 Fairness in terms of Environmental Justice

Economically disadvantaged communities are especially at risk. Special efforts must be made to inform and engage disadvantaged groups that could possibly be affected.They can easily be motivated by payments for hosting a site. They may not realize the importance of being informed by a complete, objective cost-benefit analysis in terms of money, safety, and health for both short and very long time frames. Siting in an under-informed disadvantaged community based on promises of money or jobs would be evidence of discrimination. DOE must strive to satisfy the requirements of Executive Order 12898 and to meet its own goals for Environmental Justice as set forth in its Environmental Justice Strategy document. In particular the Department of Energy needs to ensure that with respect to nuclear waste siting, it achieves its four stated goals:

  1. Goal 1 – Identify and address programs, policies, and activities of the Department that may have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority, low-income, and tribal populations.
  2. Goal 2 – Enhance the credibility and public trust of the Department by further making public participation a fundamental component of all program operations, planning activities, and decision-making processes.
  3. Goal 3 – Improve research and data collection methods relating to human health and the environment of minority, low-income, and tribal populations.
  4. Goal 4 – Further Departmental leadership by integrating environmental justice with activities and processes related to human health and the environment.

2  What models and experience should the Department use in designing the process?

The challenges and opportunities of site selection drive us to continue to learn from previous or ongoing examples.  From your perspective, what experience and models do you think are the most relevant to consider and draw from in designing the process for selecting a site?

First of all, it must be recognized that experience is far more important and reliable than modeling. Relevant experiences include the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The disasters of British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon and Porter Ranch methane leak are also relevant because they are examples of deep drilling that are hard to plug when leaking. Other relevant experience includes leakage at WIPP, Hanford, and US  Ecology near Beatty, Nevada. The leaks are due to improper containment both in containers and geological setting. The experience to date shows that existing federal standards are not strong enough. The new process and storage methods must be designed with fail safe components that will preclude further disasters.

3  Who should be involved in the process for selecting a site, and what is their role?

The Department believes that there may be a wide range of communities who will want to learn more and be involved in selecting a site.  Participation in the process for selecting a site carries important responsibilities.  What are your views on who should be involved and the roles participants should have?

3.1 Stakeholders

All stakeholders must have the opportunity to provide input and all concerns must be

addressed. Stakeholders include people who live or work within 100 miles of a proposed site or within 50 miles of a transportation route, public safety agencies, public health agencies, health professionals and organizations, social justice organizations, environmental justice organizations, and faith organizations.

3.2 Roles

The role of stakeholders is to raise concerns and inform DOE how siting plans affect them. DOE's role, and responsibility, is to address all concerns to the satisfaction of the stakeholders.

 4  What information and resources do you think would facilitate your participation?

The Department of Energy is committed to ensuring that people and communities have sufficient information and access to resources for engaging fully and effectively in siting. What information and resources would be essential to enable you to learn the most about and participate in the siting process?

4.1 Meetings

The structure of meetings has been mentioned above under question 1 on fairness.  Meeting structure can facilitate or discourage participation. In order to facilitate participation, meetings and hearings must conform to certain guidelines. First, advance notice of at least 4 weeks is required. Second, meetings must be held in evenings or on weekends. Third, meetings must be at locations that are served by public transit and also have ample free parking. Finally, meetings must have online video and audio access with 2-way communication for both listening and submitting comments or questions.

4.2 Inclusiveness

My continued participation also depends on the degree to which my questions are answered and my comments are taken seriously and are used to improve DOE's processes and plans. If I felt DOE was not listening to me, I would complain to my Congressional representatives.

 5  What else should be considered?

The questions posed in this document are a starting point for discussion on the design of the process for consent-based siting of nuclear waste facilities, the Department of Energy would like to hear about and discuss any related questions, issues, and ideas that you think are important.

5.1 Extraordinary project requirements

The unprecedented length for a project life cycle for a human enterprise demands a conservative process, conservative standards, and a conservative approach to safety that incorporates early warning and redundant safety systems. The DOE process must accurately assesses risks and mitigate as much risk as is humanly possible. Backup plans and recovery plans are needed.

5.2 Outstanding safety issues

Many safety issues remain unresolved. Containers and containment have been and continue to be plagued by problems. Existing means of transport are inadequate to ensure safety.  A detailed assessment of needed upgrades in transport infrastructure and equipment is required. All of these issues must be resolved before any siting proposals can be considered.

5.3 Interim storage contra-indicated

Proposed legislation and DOE contemplate both interim storage and permanent storage. Interim storage is a very bad strategy. It would double the hazards of transportation and would double the costs of site construction and preparation. Furthermore, it would greatly increase the risks since lower standards are contemplated for temporary storage.

5.4 Liability requirements

The DOE must contract for an independent professional actuarial analysis of liability reserve requirements, including claims for property damage, loss of life, injury, illness, cleanup, and  restoration of all damaged areas. Loss due to both storage and transport must be included. The funding needed for site maintenance also needs to be determined by accepted actuarial methods. Perpetually financing nuclear waste storage through fees based on nuclear power plant operations is a flawed strategy since nuclear power generation is uneconomical and is not a reliable source of financing in the long term. DOE needs to find a new, permanent, sufficient source of funding.

5.5 Site proposal requirements

Any site proposal must include:

  1. Identification and scientific assessment of all hazards and all potential impacts of the proposed site on its surroundings and of the surroundings on the site.
  2. Geological description and analysis of the proposed site.
  3. Container and containment plan. Containers must be capable of being inspected and repaired.
  4. Plan for site security plan, including and funding sources.
  5. Plan for transporting waste to the site including transport security.
  6. Plan for site maintenance plan, including funding sources. Site maintenance must include regular independent inspections of containers, containment structures, geological stability, early warning systems, and recovery systems. Site management must be subject to independent oversight.
  7. Plans for emergency response, failure recovery, and damage remediation plan, including funding sources.
  8. Plan for comprehensive testing for all above plans including full-scale, stress and multiple-fault testing. Physical testing needs to be conducted to verify compliance with established standards. In particular, containers, geological setting, transportation equipment and infrastructure, security systems, maintenance procedures, emergency response, and disaster recovery and remediation need to be thoroughly tested. A commitment to fix the problems found is also needed.
  9. Results of testing.
  10. Cost evaluation and financing plan.
  11. Description of methods to be used for obtaining informed approval of all affected people.

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Georgia Women's Action for New Directions

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