Monday, October 15, 2018

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future: Advocating "Consent-Based Siting" or "Successful Hoodwinking"?

October 15, 2018

Dear Readers,

In January of 2012, Obama's "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future" (known as the "BRC") delivered their final report on "consent-based siting" of nuclear waste dumps in America. Their report has become a standard reference on the subject. The commission members included both a past and a future chairperson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Richard "Rich Rad" Meserve and Allison M. Macfarlane, respectively), and a past chairman of the Department of Energy (Ernest J. Moniz).

However, who exactly the BRC thought should be allowed to give consent, and what the ramifications of that consent on future generations might be, was never clearly stated, as I point out below with numerous quotes from the BRC report.

The abominable "Shimkus Bill" (H.R. 3053), makes it even more clear what the goal really is: To limit the ability to stop a nuclear waste project once any fraction, no matter how small, of the population of a state, county, city, town or tribe has, for whatever reason, given consent to host a nuclear waste dump (and the governor of the state, for whatever reason, has approved the plan).

Here is a review of the BRC's own words on "consent-based siting" of a nuclear waste dump or interim storage location. Several quotes from prior comments I have made about the BRC report appear below the review.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

All quoted sections are from the BRC final report, available online here:

From BRC Final report, page 54:

"The Commission takes the view that any future site, provided it has met all regulatory requirements and has been selected with local- and state-level consent should require no additional approval, including congressional approval."

How "local" is "local"? This sentence can be interpreted (by the courts and others) to mean that, for example, an Indian tribe of, say, eight (or less) people can constitute "local" approval, and one governor, in a lame-duck term, can approve the site, and after that, nothing can be done -- no wider communities can object, no future tribespeople can object, not even a future governor of the state can object.

Indeed, the "Shimkus" bill (H.R.3053) is designed to make objecting even more difficult, so that the larger communities would be unable to prevent nuclear waste dumps near them (or even within their borders) or from traveling through them. Albuquerque and Las Cruces city councils have both passed ordinances forbidding nuclear spent fuel from being transported through their cities, which would make getting waste from California to Carlsbad, New Mexico very difficult, possibly even impossible. The Shimkus bill, designed to implement many aspects of the BRC recommendations, would overrule such opposition.

From BRC, page 56:

"Clearly, locating and constructing facilities for the management and disposal of SNF and HLW will require complex and possibly lengthy negotiations between the federal government and other relevant units of government. In these negotiations, it will be important to define the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of host state, tribal, and local governments both throughout the siting and licensing process and once a facility is operational. In addition, host jurisdictions should have the option to enter into partnership arrangements or other legally-binding, court-enforceable agreements with the implementing organization to ensure that all commitments concerning the development and subsequent operation of waste management facilities are upheld. A similarly consent-based approach should be used in the future in deciding whether modifications to the scope or mission of an existing facility are appropriate and acceptable. "

These statements also address limiting any community's ability to object to consent that may have been given, for example, by a previous, since-disgraced board of tribespeople or a corrupt governor. Once decided by one misguided (or highly bribed (with promises of new schools, high-paying jobs, etc.)) group, there will be no going back. The Shimkus bill is also designed to prevent any later rejection of someone else's approval of a bad idea.

From BRC, page 56:

"Beyond engaging in substantive negotiations and binding agreements with other units of government as part of the facility siting and development process, the Commission believes that states and tribes should retain—or where appropriate, be delegated—direct authority over aspects of regulation, permitting, and operations where oversight below the federal level can be exercised effectively and in a way that is helpful in protecting the interests and gaining the confidence of affected communities and citizens. Such authorities could be included in legally-enforceable agreements or partnerships if such arrangements are negotiated between the implementing organization and states, tribes, and/or local communities that agree to host a waste management facility."

Once again, the thrust (through the words "binding agreements" is to prevent a community from righting the wrong of once deciding it should host a nuclear waste site. Even if a "temporary" site ends up being in a community for centuries longer than was promised when it was built.

From BRC, Page 57:

"Another question highlighted in numerous comments to the BRC is the question of how to define "consent." Some stakeholders, for example, have suggested that consent within a state could be measured by a state-wide referendum or ballot question. On the other hand, the WIPP facility was sited, opened, and has been operated without the state's elected leaders employing such consent-measuring mechanisms. The Commission takes the view that the question of how to determine consent ultimately has to be answered by a potential host jurisdiction, using whatever means and timing it sees fit. We believe that a good gauge of consent would be the willingness of the host state (and other affected units of government, as appropriate) to enter into legally binding agreements with the facility operator, where these agreements enable states, tribes, or communities to have confidence that they can protect the interests of their citizens."

Here AGAIN, the emphasis is on restricting the ability to stop a project once any small community has agreed to host a nuclear waste site. Also, the wording goes from "host jurisdiction" (which could be a tribe of half a dozen people (or even less)) to "state" with no stops in-between. This paragraph also shows that the BRC is NOT requiring that towns, cities or counties be able to give (or not) consent, nor a state-wide referendum, only "tribes, or communities" and the governor of a state.

From BRC, page 57:

"The WIPP example suggests that having some degree of direct state- or local-level control (in the WIPP case, this was possible through RCRA) can be helpful in instances where faith in federal agencies is lacking."

"Some degree...of control" means "not complete control."


NOWHERE in the BRC final report does it state that the city (within which is contained a small piece of tribal area that has accepted nuclear waste) can object and stop the project; that a county where that city is located can stop the project; or that the state, after a (possibly ignorant, indebted, corrupted or crazy (for example, Bill Richardson)) governor has given approval of the plan, can stop the project. Furthermore, communities are not being given the ability to prevent nuclear waste from being transported through their jurisdiction if they don't want it. The whole emphasis is on NOT being able to stop the plan, because "consent" is so narrowly defined rather than explicitly including city, county, transit areas, and state (after a lone governor has agreed to the plan). All it takes is one signature at the state level to move the plan forward forever, unescapably.

Challenge: Show me one place in the BRC report where a "county" or "city" is specifically given the option to object, let alone where a community can change it's mind after an accident, or if future generations realize they were hoodwinked or that a corrupt official gave the approval (for example, Private Fuel Storage (PFS) in Utah was approved by a very small set of corrupt tribal leaders (less than 10 people). The tribal community strongly objected, as did the state, and it was never built).

In point of fact, the word "county" never appears in the BRC report, and the word "city" only appears once in an unrelated item on page 129. And the governor is the only state-level entity given authority in the BRC recommendations to object to -- or approve -- a nuclear waste dump.

Also, nowhere in recommendations of the BRC is a requirement that the public be properly informed about just what they are accepting: What the effects of an airplane strike at the facility, or a zirconium fire after a transport accident that breaches a dry cask would be. It ONLY specifies that some tribe or "community" has given consent, nowhere does the phrase "informed consent" appear in the document.

Prior quotes concerning the BRC from essays I wrote in the past (all posted online with one exception):

From: August 7th, 2014 (draft newsletter (possibly not sent?)):

Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) was an utter failure. Nevertheless, one of its members now heads the NRC.


The authors of Too Hot To Touch expect the nation to find a small community that can be properly and openly bribed to accept nuclear waste. They expect -- following the recommendations of Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste -- that somehow the laws will be changed so that surrounding communities will be unable to stop the small community's decision. This is called "community choice." I call it democracy turned on it's end. (Note: The authors don't use the term "bribed" of course. But what else are promises of tens of millions of dollars every year for as long as the waste is stored on your land, if not outright bribery?)


There's no place to put the waste. The proposed new head of the NRC was on Obama's essentially-useless "Blue Ribbon Committee" (BRC) on nuclear waste management, a committee of about a dozen people, mostly from the industry, who were charged with solving the same puzzle that tens of thousands of scientists (you read that right) at Yucca Mountain were charged with solving: What to do with the nuclear waste? The Yucca Mountain team couldn't solve that puzzle, the BRC couldn't solve it, and now she's supposed to run the agency that's in charge of making more waste that no one knows what to do with. But I don't think she's explored the idea of not making more waste in the first place! A perfectly logical idea no one seems to be able to accomplish! But San Onofre accomplished it all by themselves -- temporarily. We just want to make it permanent, and we think we have a lot of good reasons.


And the waste -- let's not forget about the waste issues. The Yucca Mountain scientific team was told they could study AND SUGGEST TO CONGRESS any alternative if it was technologically better. The only thing they were forbidden from spending time and money considering was doing the same sort of underground, monitored storage in a different location -- Kansas, for instance, or Alaska.

The Yucca Mountain team looked at all the things that Obama's new committee is going to look at. Rocketing the waste to the sun, putting it in underwater subduction zones, vitrification, on-site storage -- everything.



The above report was created in response to some comments made last Friday (October 12, 2018) by a person associated with creating the Blue Ribbon Commission's report.

Several stakeholders, myself included, attended a meeting on "Extreme Events." We had created a petition a few months ago and about 170 people signed on, asking for a workshop on the subject of rare-but possible catastrophic events at San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump.

Roger Johnson conceived the idea for the workshop, and did most of the work to produce the petition. Gary Headrick and myself helped out with the wording and the signature gathering.

At the meeting last Friday, nothing was decided. It was attended by the three of us, as well as a representative from Surfrider, along with about a dozen people associated with SCE: Several of Southern California Edison's experts, several SCE Community Engagement Panel members (these are volunteers but hand-picked by SCE), and an "expert" on siting a nuclear waste dump who told us that he was on both the Yucca Mountain siting committee as well as the BRC (his signature is not included in their Final Report, however). He also said that he is helping Canada find a place for its nuclear waste, and they've so far narrowed the search down to five locations which, he reports, are "interested" in welcoming nuclear waste into their community. (Note: Reports I've seen indicate none of these sites have any significant support among the people living nearby...)

The nuclear waste siting expert told me that transporting nuclear waste is not a problem, which I strongly disagree with. He also said that the BRC advocated for "Consent Based Siting" of a nuclear waste dump in America, and as I've outlined above, I think they only use the term but have every intention of forcing the waste on some unlucky community somewhere -- at the moment, either southeastern New Mexico or western Texas.

Prior to the meeting, SCE sent out three documents and asked us to read them. I did, and do not think they proved that a catastrophic "extreme event" cannot happen at San Onofre. For each document I wrote a detailed, section-by-section review:

The earliest document was from 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences, titled Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage, Public Report (ISBN 978-0-309-38797-2 | DOI 10.17226/11263). Here's my review of that document:

The next document was from 2015 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, titled Protecting Our Nation (NUREG/BR-0314, Rev. 4). Here's my review of that document:

The most recent document was from 2017 by the International Atomic Energy Agency, titled Assessment of Vulnerabilities of Operating Nuclear Power Plants to Extreme External Events (IAEA-TECDOC-1834). Here is my review of that document:

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
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