The Nation's Nuclear Waste--Proposals for Organization and Siting

EMD-79-77: Published: Jun 21, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 1979.

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Over the last 30 years, the Federal Government has generated vast quantities of highly radioactive contaminated waste. Spent fuel from commercial reactors has also accumulated. Both are characterized by high levels of radiation and a long toxic life. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy (DOE) have major responsibilities for managing and disposing of these wastes. Several attempts by the DOE and its predecessor agencies to permanently dispose of nuclear waste in deep underground repositories have failed because of public and political opposition, rather than technical reasons. The Federal Government has never articulated a firm policy on how it intends to manage nuclear waste over the long term, and consequently there has never been a clearly defined, technically feasible waste management plan.

A task force established by the President has made some recommendations which highlight the significant problems and are a step in the right direction. A defensible master plan for long-term development and implementation, and an organizational concept which will provide for public participation are still needed and are critical to a technically feasible and broadly accepted program. If State approval for repository sites cannot be obtained within an established time, the Federal Government might have to mandate selections if the waste problem is to be solved within a reasonable time. Any entity which may assume responsibility for site selection should give first consideration to determining if any of the existing reservations are acceptable for waste disposal. If they are not acceptable for storing nuclear wastes that would be shipped there from other locations, then these sites should not be acceptable for the long-term storage of wastes already there.

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