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Denver • The West has a strong message for anyone looking its way to solve the nation's nuclear waste problem.
No more dumping on us. Unless, of course, it's in a community that has welcomed the waste after a thorough scientific and public vetting.
That was the resounding message delivered Tuesday to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which stopped in Denver for the first of four public listening sessions on its ideas for dealing with the growing stockpile of high-level nuclear waste from commercial reactors and the military.
And, while the presidential advisory panel insists any new storage and disposal sites must be located "where communities are willing," tribes, environmentalists, state government and community leaders pressed the commission to make the message unequivocal; any new plans for nuclear waste must include a stronger voice for affected communities. Only then, they say, will communities be ready to step up to host new waste sites.
John Pearce, counsel to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, pointed to Utah's experience fighting an interim storage site in the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation as the antithesis of the open, scientific and lively partnership the commission suggests. He urged the panel to consider the lessons in Utah's long and costly battle against the site.
"In addition to recognizing that a successful siting decision requires negotiations with potentially affected state governments," he said of future waste sites, 'there must be a mechanism by which the states can have their concerns legitimately and honestly dealt with, with a decisional role for governors in the process."
Skull Valley Chairwoman Lori Bear and Tribal Secretary Kristen Bear attended the morning sessions but did not participate.
People from Idaho and Nevada urged the commission to look to them for possible future sites once federal policy guarantees locals have a say.
Gary Hollis, commission chairman of Nye County, Nev., home of the now-scuttled Yucca Mountain Repository, agreed "affected communities should retain significant control." But he also emphasized that the federal government should get back to work on the Yucca Mountain site, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other state leaders worked to block it.
The Blue Ribbon Commission, led by former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton and former national security adviser and Utah native Brent Scowcroft, has been meeting since early last year to brainstorm ways to solve the nation's nuclear waste disposal backlog. More than 67,000 tons of high-level waste awaits disposal, and more piles up every year at reactor sites.
Seeing the Yucca Mountain site as another example of a western state being forced to solve a national problem, the new commission is advocating a different approach that is "adaptive, staged, consent-based, transparent and standards- and science-based."
Commission member Allison Macfarlane told participants the idea of Tuesday's meeting, co-hosted by the Western Governors Association, was to hear what people in the region think of the preliminary recommendations. "We are in reception mode," she said.
Utahns have zeroed in on a commission recommendation for the creation of one or more interim storage sites that would be in use for up to 120 years.
The idea is just like the proposal by the Skull Valley band, developed in partnership with a consortium of nuclear utility companies. The partners secured a license five years ago from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate a kind of long-term parking lot in Tooele County for up to 44,000 tons of nuclear waste from reactors.
Although the project was derailed a few months after the license was approved, it remains the nation's only consolidated storage site with a license, the only solution for reactor waste stored at more than 70 different sites nationwide.
The commission did not single out the Skull Valley site as a likely candidate for the storage facility in its July draft report. But Utahns pressed the commission Tuesday to make it clear that the Skull Valley proposal is not what it had in mind when it suggested a consolidated storage site.
Margene Bullcreek, a Skull Valley band member who opposes the nuclear waste storage project, echoed the complaints of state and local leaders. She said tribes must have a bigger say in transportation over reservation lands and in the sites themselves.
She said: "We already have been victimized enough."
The future of nuclear waste
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future will have similar public-input meetings in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. It will take comments through the end of October through the commission Web page. Its draft report can be viewed at brc.gov. The final report is due in January.