DOE resumes consent-based siting process for spent fuel storage

December 1, 2021, 12:03PMRadwaste Solutions
Spent fuel in dry cask storage at the closed Kewaunee nuclear power plant. (Photo: NAC International)

The Department of Energy has restarted its consent-based siting process for identifying sites to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Yesterday, the DOE issued a request for information that “will be used to further develop DOE’s consent-based siting process and overall waste management strategy in an equitable way.”

With the request for information, the DOE picks up where the Obama administration left off in January 2017, when just days before the new administration was sworn in, the department released a draft consent-based siting process for public comment. The DOE said that comments received from both the 2017 draft process and this current request for information will be used in developing a consent-based process for siting federal interim storage facilities, as well as planning an overall integrated waste management system strategy, and possibly a funding opportunity.

The DOE’s resuscitation of its consent-based siting program follows Congress’s passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which provides funding and directs the DOE to move forward with interim storage activities. The DOE said that nuclear energy is essential to achieving the current administration’s goals for reducing carbon emissions, and that managing waste not only makes nuclear a more sustainable option but also helps fulfill the government’s spent fuel obligations.

Quotes: “Hearing from and then working with communities interested in hosting one of these facilities is the best way to finally solve the nation’s spent nuclear fuel management issues,” said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm. “We know there are real benefits, from jobs to new infrastructure, that will result in interest in areas across the country. The public’s input is central to identifying those locations to make this process as inclusive and effective as possible.”

Kathryn Huff, DOE principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said, “I’m extremely excited about restarting the consent-based siting process. DOE is committed to responsibly managing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel, and willing communities have the right to explore the benefits and conditions they need to host a federal interim storage facility.”

Questions: To inform its process, the DOE is seeking input on specific questions covering three different areas of consent-based siting. The DOE said that respondents do not need to address every question, but it welcomes input in the following areas.

Area 1: Consent-based siting process.

  1. How should the department build considerations of social equity and environmental justice into a consent-based siting process?
  2. What role should tribal, state, and local governments and officials play in determining consent for a community to host a federal interim storage facility?
  3. What benefits or opportunities could encourage local, state, and tribal governments to consider engaging with the DOE as it works to identify federal interim storage sites?
  4. What are barriers or impediments to the successful siting of federal interim storage facilities using a consent-based process and how could they be addressed?
  5. How should the department work with local communities to establish reasonable expectations and plans concerning the duration of storage at federal interim storage facilities?
  6. What organizations or communities should the department consider partnering with to develop a consent-based approach to siting?
  7. What other issues, including those raised in the draft consent-based siting process, should the department consider in implementing a consent-based siting process?

Area 2: Removing barriers to meaningful participation

  1. What barriers might prevent meaningful participation in a consent-based siting process and how could those barriers be mitigated or removed?
  2. What resources might be needed to ensure that potentially interested communities have adequate opportunities for information sharing, expert assistance, and meaningful participation in the consent-based siting process?
  3. How could the DOE maximize opportunities for mutual learning and collaboration with potentially interested communities?
  4. How might the DOE more effectively engage with local, state, and tribal governments on consent-based siting of federal interim storage facilities?
  5. What information do communities, governments, or other stakeholders need to engage with the department on consent-based siting of federal interim storage facilities?

Area 3: Interim storage as part of a waste management system

  1. How can the DOE ensure that considerations of social equity and environmental justice are addressed in developing the nation’s waste management system?
  2. What are possible benefits or drawbacks to collocating multiple facilities within the waste management system or collocating waste management facilities with manufacturing facilities, research and development infrastructure, or clean energy technologies?
  3. To what extent should the development of an interim storage facility relate to progress on establishing a permanent repository?
  4. What other issues should the department consider in developing a waste management system?

Comments: Responses to the DOE’s request for information on identifying a federal interim storage facility using a consent-based siting process can be submitted electronically to Responses must be received by 5 p.m. (EST) on March 4, 2022.

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