Panel urges handling Hanford waste

By:  Annette Cary
Source: The Tri-City Herald

The possibility of disposing of Hanford's high-level radioactive waste while a solution continues to be worked out for spent commercial nuclear fuel was raised Thursday at a Senate hearing.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., questioned leaders of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future on its findings at a hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. On Wednesday, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a candidate for governor, questioned commission leaders at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy.

The commission issued its final recommendation last week, calling for the nation to look for a location "by consensus" where a new national repository for high-level defense waste and used commercial fuel will be welcome. It also called for the development of storage sites to be used in the meantime.   

               The commission was formed after the Obama administration moved to shut down work on the Yucca Mountain, Nev., national repository, after about $15 billion had been spent to develop it.

One reason the panel turned to storage was to take care of government defense waste, said commission co-chairman Brent Scowcroft at the Senate hearing. Hanford has about 90 percent of the nation's high-level radioactive defense waste after producing plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.

The commission did not have time to look at the possibility of separate planning for defense waste and commercial used fuel, said commissioner Pete Domenici. But it did suggest that the executive branch look at whether the nation should move quickly to establish a facility for the defense waste, he said.

It could be used as proof of concept for the commercial used fuel, he said.

That is an important point for the state of Washington -- "the possibility of prioritizing the military waste and moving forward more quickly on that," Cantwell said. "I mean, we just can't be the repository for 90 percent of this high-level waste in Washington state."

The nation needs to use the science available and move forward with the critical issue of disposing of Hanford waste, she said. The high-level radioactive waste at Hanford that was planned to go to Yucca Mountain, includes logs of vitrified, or glassified, waste that the vitrification plant is scheduled to start producing in 2019.

Inslee focused his questions at the House hearing on his disappointment that the commission was not allowed by the administration to consider Yucca Mountain as part of the solution.

"I'm really concerned that if we do require a 'consensus,' it's basically going to require my state to become a de facto repository for these wastes through my grandchildren's lifetime," he said. "And I think that's the route we're on if we don't follow the law" that designated Yucca Mountain at the nation's repository.

"It is the law. You're correct," said commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton. "The problem is we can't enforce the law. That has not been a solution."

People have thought for 40 years that the issue would be resolved with the next administration elected, but that has not happened. And continuing to focus on Yucca Mountain will mean the issue will continue at an impasse for another 40 years, he said.

Only the path of looking for consensus on a repository site will move the issue toward resolution, he said.   

Read more here: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/02/03/1812014/panel-urges-handling-hanford-waste.html#storylink=cpy