— Comments on “consent-based siting” to Department of Energy, 4-26-16

From San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace

April 26, 2016

In 2016 the Department of Energy (DOE) held eight public meetings around the country on the Department’s consent-based siting initiative for facilities to manage the nation’s nuclear waste. The DOE is planning siting facilities to store, transport, and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace

Comments on Consent-Based Siting D.O. E. meeting, Sacramento

April 26, 2016

1. San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) does not support or ‘consent’ to the plan of solving the nuclear waste problem with the goal of guaranteeing the FUTURE of nuclear energy in the USA. We do not support the intention of continuing the use of nuclear energy. SLOMFP is concerned that these public meetings are ultimately being conducted to rationalize the continued production of spent fuel through the operation of nuclear reactors, and thereby serve the needs of the nuclear industry, not the needs or the desires of the public.

2. After more than 60 years spent searching for an effective solution to the disposal of radioactive waste, there remains no viable plan. Furthermore, an increasing number of options are available for generating electrical energy using renewable resources that do not create lethal wastes. Thus, as a condition for going forward with a consent-based process for spent fuel disposal, the United States should enter a process for the orderly shutdown of all nuclear reactors. The problem of long-term storage would remain, but at least the quantity of wastes would remain stable.

The term “consent-based siting” is not clearly defined. There are no assurances that such “consent” will be fully informed. In a medical context, informed consent means the patient has been told and shown in writing all of the possible negative outcomes of a treatment as well as the hoped-for positive results The patient can make an objective decision about proceeding or not. SLOMFP sees no indication that the probable negatives of allowing storage of lethal radioactive wastes on a given site will be clearly spelled out BEFORE the community in question can give “consent”. This is essential.

Furthermore, there is no process defined for securing so-called consent. Would consent be determined by a letter from elected local officials? Or would the population affected have an opportunity to vote? If so, what plurality would be required to qualify as “consent”? And who is authorized to speak for future generations?

If legitimate consent is to be obtained for the interim storage of highly irradiated “spent” nuclear fuel in or near a community, each individual in that community must be given adequate, unbiased information about the potential short-term and long-term risks of living in proximity to the site. Then a legal vote must be obtained from the community members. Elected officials do not have the authority to make such an important decision without the fully informed consent of every member of the community. An example of failure to hear those who dissent comes from New Mexico. “We do not consent to the plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste on us,” said Rose Gardner who lives in Eunice, New Mexico, a town of nearly 3000 people that is 40% Hispanic. It lies five miles west of the Waste Control Specialists site proposed for interim storage of nuclear waste. “Andrews County officials say that we want this waste, but no one has ever asked me if I consent. I would definitely say no, and many others here feel the same way. We never got to vote on this issue. The Department of Energy is saying that our community consents to having radioactive waste dumped in our backyard, but this isn’t true. The DOE scheduled eight hearings around the country, but not a single one for New Mexico or Texas, the targeted region. Clearly they don’t want to hear our voices.”

  1. It is also essential that states and communities with responsibility for caring for nuclear waste be given the authority to regulate it to a greater degree of safety than the federal government. And states and communities should have the prerogative of opting out of consent throughout the process, as additional information is developed about the site and the risks of disposal.
  2. We agree with the recommendation of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future that DOE should be replaced with a new agency to manage high-level radioactive waste. Given the DOE’s dismal record and the public’s lack of trust in its work, replacement of the DOE with a new agency is an essential step.
  3. SLOMFP supports the creation of a permanent geological repository for nuclear waste that is scientifically selected to guarantee that the radioactive materials will be secure from the environment for the length of time they are radioactive. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that time period may extend to 1 million years. See http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/hlwfcst.htm