The NCSL Blog

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By: Katie Meehan

The long-term storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States is an ongoing environmental issue and increasingly a very political issue as well.

Nuclear towerIn 1987, Congress designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada to be the host site for permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. With ups and downs over many years, work at Yucca Mountain was halted in 2011 for a variety of reasons.

Over the years, the public has become increasingly wary of efforts to create a permanent repository for nuclear waste, though most would agree a long-term solution is needed. Much of this waste is currently stored on-site at nuclear power sites and a long-term disposal option seems elusive.

The federal government is primarily responsible for finding a suitable and safe location for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, but, states, tribes, and local communities all play an important role.

Learning from the tensions surrounding Yucca Mountain and building on the 2012 recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) recently released a plan to develop a consent-based siting approach, emphasizing the need for community involvement in determining where a disposal site may be constructed.

The DOE is currently seeking public comment on how to design a consent-based approach. Specifically, DOE is seeking to define consent, to increase public engagement, to create transparency in sharing information with the public, to promote fairness and equity in the process, and to protect community well-being. DOE is accepting public comments until June 15, 2016.

DOE is hosting eight public meetings from March to July, 2016.  These meetings will include panel discussions from a mix of local, state, and tribal government officials to highlight local and regional perspectives. These meetings serve as a forum for the general public to learn what it would mean to host such a storage facility and to provide feedback to the DOE on how a consent-based approach should be designed.

Upcoming public hearings:

Chicago, Ill. - 3/29/16

Atlanta, Ga.- 4/11/16

Sacramento, Calif. - 4/26/16

Denver, Colo. - 5/24/16

Boston, Mass. - 6/2/16

Tempe, Ariz. - 6/23/16

Boise, Idaho - 7/14/16

Minneapolis, Minn. - 7/21/16

NCSL is a long-standing supporter of a consent-based process for storing spent nuclear waste. NCSL provides staff support to numerous state and tribal working groups focusing on these issues through a cooperative agreement with the DOE.  NCSL also issued a blog post last year summarizing proposed legislation and the White House's strategy on the issue of nuclear waste storage.

Katie Meehan covers nuclear waste issues for NCSL.

Email Katie.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.