DOE launches nuclear waste disposal initiative

The Department of Energy is formally launching its initiative aimed at establishing a disposal site for spent nuclear fuel.

The department said Monday that it is accepting input on the disposal plan, which centers on finding at least one place to store spent fuel, with the consent of the local community.

Officials are also planning forums throughout 2016 to inform a more concrete plan for establishing a disposal site.

It’s a key step toward rolling out what the Obama administration thinks is the best way forward for nuclear waste disposal — and stands in stark contrast to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which was designated by Congress to be the country’s main waste site. The Obama administration canceled it amid strong local and state opposition.

“The launch of our consent-based siting initiative represents an important step toward addressing this nuclear waste management challenge, so that we can continue to benefit from nuclear technologies,” Lynn Orr, the Energy Department’s deputy secretary for science and energy, wrote in a Monday blog post.

While it will take years before the first pilot storage site is established, the administration’s action nonetheless is a small step toward solving the problem of nuclear waste sitting at dozens of current and former nuclear power plants and defense-related sites around the country.

The administration’s plan is largely informed by a wide-ranging 2013 report from a blue-ribbon commission, which concluded that a “consent-based” waste site is the ideal strategy and alternative to Yucca.