If there’s a general consensus that deep geologic storage is the way to move forward, there’s also agreement that finding the place to do it is going to be extremely difficult. The site has to work for scientists, engineers, politicians and local communities. Navigating the necessities and expectations involved is no easy task.
“I think that when politics plays with science, science always seems to be trumped by politics in the end,” said Brooklyn Baptiste of the Nez Perce tribe at a July BRC meeting. “That’s why it’s pretty tough to find those solutions to the deep geologic repository.”
Bruce Breslow, the executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects laid out the basics to the BRC Disposal Subcommittee: “In 30 years, no state has come forward and said we’ll do it. No one has put their hand up.”
When Congress decided in 1987 that Yucca Mountain was the place for the country’s nuclear waste, it was over the strenuous objections of Nevada’s two freshman senators. One of those congressional newbies was Harry Reid who has since risen to the position of Senate majority leader, loudly objecting to Yucca Mountain throughout his congressional career. And according to a 2008 opinion poll in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a majority of Reid’s fellow Nevadans agreed with him.
So, if Nevada doesn’t want the nuclear waste, and no other state is immediately jumping forward to take up the job, how will the country ever site a repository? The answer might lie in an incentives package that accompanies the radioactive material.
Breslow told the BRC that a state must “be financially compensated for hosting a repository, and the amount of compensation must be substantial enough for a state to consider it a true incentive.” And according to Breslow, that amount would likely run in the billions of dollars “for the service and for the risk involved.”
But signing over a big check isn’t the only carrot the federal government might offer. In his BRC presentation, Breslow noted that bringing a national nuclear research laboratory to the site would not only provide economic benefits, but also integrate scientists into the community to “build credibility on a local level.”
European countries are having some success with incentivizing nuclear waste storage and the BRC may learn from their experience. But environmental risk consultant Chris Whipple cautioned the Disposal Subcommittee that what works for the Scandinavians may not fly on this side of the Atlantic. “Sweden has only 10 million people,” Whipple said. “They are quite homogeneous. They don’t have strong state governments. For all those reasons, the number of hurdles that a siting process has to go through is more limited.”