NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane worried about poor management of radioactive waste

NRC rejects effort to move radwaste from pools; Macfarlane issues strong dissent Michael Mariotte, Green World, 30 May 14, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has again sided with the nuclear power industry  (where have you heard that one before?) and rejected efforts by environmental/clean energy groups and five U.S. Senators to move high-level radioactive waste out of overcrowded, dangerous and poorly-protected fuel pools as soon as it is cool enough to be placed in dry casks.

Not only did the NRC Commissioners take this unconscionable vote, they said this was their last word on the subject and they would refuse to ever again consider the issue.

Macfarlane, AllisonBut the vote wasn’t unanimous: NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane, who has spent her career studying radioactive waste issues, issued a strong dissent to the decision, essentially arguing that the NRC staff hasn’t done its homework.

Which brings up an interesting subject we’ll talk about more below: what if the four Commissioners who voted for the industry on the waste issue–and nearly always vote for the industry–had been unsuccessful in their efforts in 2012 to oust then-chair Greg Jaczko, who almost certainly would have taken the same position as Macfarlane? We might then be looking at a Commission that could in a few months have had both Jaczko and Macfarlane as members, and perhaps at least one more Commissioner independent of the agency. That would be a very different situation than the industry-dominated and sympathetic Commission that has far too long run the NRC……….

In her dissent, Macfarlane castigated the staff for essentially shoddy research: “In my view, the staff has not adequately explored the issue of spent fuel management in the pool and as a result, I do not have adequate information on which to base a view on the need to require approaches that may lead to some form of expedited transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry casks.”

Macfarlane said she did not necessarily support a program to move the radioactive fuel to dry casks within five years, but primarily because the technical capacity to do so may not exist. And she complained that was the only option presented by the staff to the Commission:…….

In her nine-page dissent, the NRC chair also complained about the NRC staff’s failure unwillingness to fully engage the public in the agency’s radioactive waste discussions, writing, “I do not agree with the staff’s approach in engaging the public near the very end of the
current two-year regulatory review process, without the ability to fully provide input on key regulatory factors or review the draft regulatory analysis that was provided to the Commission. In accelerating this Tier 3 activity to align with the Waste Confidence environmental activities for public transparency, the staff may have ironically impeded the same public from fully vetting this issue in the safety and security arenas.”

Macfarlane concluded citing the precautionary principle:……….


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