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New Breakthrough Report

Beyond Yucca Mountain: Decentralization and Innovation for US Nuclear Waste Management

Nuclear waste management has loomed over energy policy debates for decades. The federal government has designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site to be considered for permanent disposal, and unsuccessfully attempted to railroad the construction of a repository there. But in all that time, a decentralized and informal system for managing nuclear spent fuel has emerged. What’s needed now is to abandon the failed, top-down nuclear waste framework in favor of a new policy agenda built on decentralization, consent, and innovation.

In a new Breakthrough report, we propose a set of pragmatic policy measures to ensure a sustainable future for nuclear in the United States. We draw on historical American experience, international comparisons, and emerging technological innovations to create a set of options for nuclear waste policy that aligns the interests of communities, governments, industry, and environmental advocates. Our proposed solutions include:

  • Consent-based decentralized waste storage and disposal,
  • reprocessing waste into fuel, reforming the international regime for waste, and
  • pursuing innovative technological options for waste management.
The future of nuclear power in the United States depends on the future of nuclear waste management. Here's our take on better waste management.
Here's how to handle nuclear waste >>>
  Jameson McBride on why it matters to talk about nuclear waste now  

We’re known for our nuclear work at Breakthrough, but waste had been something of a blind spot. Over the course of researching this report, we found that it’s a real problem — particularly in public perception of nuclear power — and the current US waste policy has pretty destructively failed. This stands in sharp contrast to the claims of the most extreme nuclear advocates, who argue it isn’t a problem at all and political infighting is the only reason that people worry about waste. Luckily, there are lots of solutions, both near-term changes to the laws on the books and long-term innovative ideas on the horizon. Regardless of whether the US decides to build more nuclear in response to the threat of climate change — which we believe they should — moving beyond Yucca Mountain is needed even for the waste we have already produced and the waste we are producing now.

There are currently about 6,500 dry casks’ worth of spent fuel in the US. With each cask roughly the size of a shipping container, all US nuclear energy waste would fit on approximately two-and-a-quarter container ships. Read more.

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