(Work in progress)
It's about a year since the Administration's decision to cancel the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste tomb. As energy secretary Steven Chu discussed then, the White House intended to assemble an expert panel to review the options. (One could wonder why they made their decision before hearing what the experts would recommend, but that's not how policymaking works.)
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Steven Chu: Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we're going to be doing is saying, let's step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago. The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is saying that the dry cask storage at current sites would be safe for many decades, so that gives us time to figure out what we should do for a long-term strategy. We will be assembling a blue-ribbon panel to look at the issue.
Today the executive branch has selected its "blue ribbon" panelists:
It appears to me this panel isn't suited for its task -- the purely technical issue of spent nuclear fuel. I only count: one engineer, two physicists, and one geologist, out of 15 experts. Most of the rest are politicians and business suits. I fear this is more of a political game than a legitimate conference of nuclear waste experts.
Perhaps the most worrying name on the list none other than Brent Scowcroft. If you recall, he was the national security advisor for George H.W. Bush -- a key figure in the end of the cold war. Him along with Albert Carnesale (nonproliferation diplomat, figure in SALT treaties -- some writings here), and Susan Eisenhower (nonproliferation consultant, board of Nuclear Threat Initiative). I think we should read between the lines: why did Obama put a national security wonk and two nuclear weapons wonks on this panel? What the US does with spent reactor fuel has nothing to do with weapons or war. But the administration thinks, or perhaps wants to signal, otherwise; that US reprocessing and breeder reactors -- key technical solutions for destroying nuclear waste -- would be a security threat. Looking at history, nuclear weapons fearmongering has been a key political attack against nuclear power, especially closed fuel cycles. Ford's reprocessing ban was ostensibly about weapons. John Kerry and Hazel O'Leary's canceling of Argonne's Integral Fast Reactor research was, again, used with proliferation as a pretext.
Professor Per Peterson is the sole nuclear engineer. Among many other things, he is researching a molten salt (!) reactor design called PB-AHTR. Unlike LFTR, it is only half fluid: the coolant is a molten salt, whereas the fuel elements are solid pebbles.
Richard Meserve seems to be lots of things - PhD physicist, former NRC chairman, sits on board of the electric utility PG&E.
Allison MacFarlane is a geologist who researches spent fuel repositories, and has written a book criticizing Yucca Mountain. Some of her writings are here at the Belfer Center (which she is an associate of). Rod Adams interviews her on Atomic Podcast #61 (haven't watched yet; Rod says they "agree to disagree", which is worrying.)
There are several remembers whose only "qualification" appears to be political stature. Lee Hamilton is a former Democratic congressman. Chuck Hagel is a former Republican Senator. Pete Domenici is a former Republican senator, who sat on the energy subcommittee. Phil Sharp is a former Democratic congressman who now heads the political think tank Resources for the Future.
Several sitting energy industry executives, who likewise have no particular reason to be here, and an in my naive opinion have way too much conflict of interest to be allowed in the first place. Vicky Bailey is director of Chiniere Energy, an importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) (she was also a former commissioner of FERC). John Rowe is CEO of Exelon, an electric utility whose fleet is largely nuclear reactors.
Mark Ayers is a union boss from AFL-CIO.