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NRDC's Perspective on the Nuclear Waste Dilemma

August 2010

Citation: ELR 10791

Author: Thomas B. Cochran & Geoffrey H. Fettus

While we agree with Richard B. Stewart, in his Article, Solving the U.S. Nuclear Waste Dilemma, on some crucial issues--most notably that the national process for developing a geologic repository for disposal nuclear waste is currently a mess--we have a substantially different perspective on the reasons for the mess and the path forward.

I. Background on Geologic Repositories

As Stewart describes, efforts to geologically isolate high-level nuclear waste began more than forty years ago. The National Academy of Sciences in 1957 reported that a number of geologic disposal alternatives were possible, but indicated a preference for disposal in salt. In 1967, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) proposed Project Salt Vault, a plan to develop a geologic repository in the Carey salt mine at Lyons, Kansas. This plan was abandoned by the AEC in the early 1970s after the Kansas Geological Survey mounted a strong campaign against the site, pointing out that the area had been subjected to extensive exploratory drilling for oil and gas deposits, and noting that an adjacent salt mine could not account for the loss of a large volume of water used during solution mining of the salt.

Thomas B. Cochran is a senior scientist in the nuclear program and holds the Wade Greene Chair for Nuclear Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where he served as director of the nuclear program until 2007. Mr. Cochran has served as a consultant to numerous government and nongovernment agencies on energy, nuclear nonproliferation, and nuclear reactor matters, and is currently a member of the U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee. Geoffrey H. Fettus joined NRDC in the fall of 2001, and as a senior attorney manages all aspects of NRDC's nuclear litigation in trial and appellate courts. Mr. Fettus has spent a significant portion of his time litigating nuclear waste and cleanup issues, including as lead counsel for NRDC and other environmental groups in the successful challenge to EPA's radiation protection standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004.

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