Richard Stewart, Solving the U.S. Nuclear Waste Dilemma, 40 Envtl. L. Pol’y Ann. R. 10783 (2010).
Current U.S. nuclear waste law and policy is bankrupt. The 1982 Nuclear Waste Management Act (NWPA) set a 1998 deadline for opening a deep geologic repository to receive spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high level waste (HLW) from reprocessing. In 1987 Congress amended the Act to designate Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the only potential site, and severely restricted the development of any federal facility for consolidated storage of nuclear waste. Nevada’s unrelenting opposition to the Yucca repository eventually succeeded with the election of Barack Obama as President. The Obama administration has withdrawn funding for Yucca and withdrawn its application for licensing by the NRC, leaving large volumes of defense nuclear wastes and mounting inventories of spent nuclear fuel without a destination pathway. The failure of Yucca contrasts with the success of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) repository in New Mexico, which was developed entirely outside of the rigid NWPA framework. WIPP, the only operating deep geologic nuclear waste repository in the world, emerged over a 20 year period through a largely unplanned process of contestation and negotiation between the federal government and the State of New Mexico. WIPP opened in 1998 and since that time has been successfully receiving and emplacing substantial volumes of TRU defense wastes from Department of Energy (DOE) facilities.
At the same time as it cancelled Yucca, the Obama administration has proposed massive government assistance for the construction of large numbers of new nuclear power plants. The failure of the federal government to honor its NWPA obligation to take spent nuclear fuel, which continues to accumulate at existing power plants, is a potentially potent political weapon for those who oppose expansion of nuclear power. President Obama is looking to the distinguished Blue Ribbon Commission on America‟s nuclear future appointed by Energy Secretary Chu to solve his nuclear dilemma.