Madison, WI – There are plenty of novelties cities will proudly claim – ever heard the road trip trope of visiting the biggest ball of yarn? But it has historically been much harder for local communities to take pride in being hosts for critical energy facilities, particularly those that involve the management of the nation's spent nuclear fuel.
On March 26, 1999, on the outskirts of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant received its first shipment of nuclear waste. Congress authorized the construction of the WIPP in 1979 due to its unique geology, a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed resulting from the evaporation of the ancient Permian Sea more than 250 million years ago. Additionally beneficial is its proximity to Los Alamos National Laboratory and the support of key local officials, making the WIPP the first U.S. underground nuclear waste repository to safely store decades of nuclear detritus resulting from Cold War-era bomb making and nuclear research. Since its establishment, however, finding a safe and accepted approach for managing the growing stock of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants has proven to be elusive, drawing opposition from potential host states and advocacy groups.
Now, the Department of Energy is reviewing the process for managing spent nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Energy University Program of the DOE has awarded nearly $3 million to a research team led by the University of Oklahoma's Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis with collaborators at the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, New Mexico State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to develop a new approach to "consent-based siting" of storage facilities that brings the questions, concerns and interests of community members to the forefront of the engineering and planning process for future storage sites.