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National US grassroots summit on radwaste policy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mary Olson at NIRS

On July 5, a group of seasoned anti-nuclear activists supported by an intergenerational community “crossed the line” in Oak Ridge in protest of the ramping up of nuclear weapons production the US. The 60th Anniversary year of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is also the 30th anniversary of the Ploughshares 8 where faith activists walked into a General Electric facility and used hammers to literally “beat the swords” – the nose cone of a nuclear weapon – to ploughshares. Some three dozen peace activists were arrested at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant

The group of activists was celebrated at a weekend gathering in Tennessee along with two US based antinuclear support groups – Nukewatch based in Wisconsin and the publication The Nuclear Resister based in Arizona – both founded in 1980 and celebrating their 30 year mark as well. “Resistance for a Nuclear Free Future” drew more than 200 participants and as is typical for US anti-nuclear gatherings today was dominated by the over-60 crowd with a handful in the 40 – 60 range, joyfully laced with a contingent of youth, primarily from the growing “Think Outside the Bomb” network (see: ).

While there was new information shared, the primary focus of the event was celebration of the long history of nuclear resistance activism in the US and in particular the staff of Nukewatch, The Nuclear Resister and the ongoing work of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) focused on Y-12, the one site of continuous industrial-scale nuclear weapons production in the US, in Oak Ridge.

One month before, another strategic gathering of activists met in Chicago: the National Grassroots Summit on Radioactive Waste Policy. A section of the event, devoted to education was entitled “A People’s History of Radioactive Waste” the balance of the Summit was peer-to-peer working groups with either a geographic or issue focus with a total of 26 peer-to-peer sessions held over three days. More than 90 people participated from 26 states resulting in seven regional working groups.

The purpose of the Summit was to initiate national-scope networking, coordination and collaboration within the US anti-nuclear and nuclear-focused communities in the wake of “destabilization” of national nuclear waste policy thanks to President Obama’s intent to cancel the Yucca dump.

Since the panel appointed by Energy Secretary Chu to formulate “post-Yucca” waste policy – (a still hoped for outcome as the question of whether Obama and the Department of Energy have the authority to cancel Yucca Mountain; a question likely to go all the way to the US Supreme Court -see box) does not have a single grassroots advocate or even nuclear critic, the Summit was called in part to form a national platform to watch-dog this group. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (official name!) is almost exclusively nuclear industry operatives – including John Rowe, head of Exelon the largest US nuclear utility and former Senate Energy Committee Chair, Pete Domenici (R-NM retired), and the head of the trade union that would get many construction jobs. 

A key function of the Summit was to reaffirm that commitment that we are one community – that we share one “backyard” and that we will stand together rather than allowing the nuclear industry to “play” us against each other. One outcome of the Summit is renewed commitment to regional collaboration and networking for community-based education, engagement and action to stop any of the pro-industry proposals that the BRC is likely to endorse. Topping the list of these bad options is reprocessing which would be a reversal of nearly 40 years of prohibition of commercial plutonium separation in the US. 

Reprocessing and “centralized interim storage” of irradiated fuel (currently nearly all of this most radioactive waste is stored on the reactor site where it was generated) are somewhat interchangeable. A reprocessing site would offer a centralized location where waste would likely be stored prior to processing – and likewise, a centralized storage site might “invite” a reprocessing plant at a later date. Thus one of the strongest outcomes of the Summit was an affirmation towards the implementation of the Principles for Safeguarding Radioactive Waste at Reactors(*1). The core of this plan is to ensure that over-full fuel pools are emptied (except the hottest waste) and that dry containers are made more secure by being spread out, surrounded by earth barriers to reduce likelihood of attack, and fitted with real-time monitors. The Principles explicitly oppose making more radioactive waste and also oppose reprocessing the existing waste. This statement is the strongest consensus in the US anti-nuclear energy activist community and is supported by 283 organizations across 50 states. Two days of education and coordinated action to elevate the Principles are being planned. Hopefully international in scope, likely dates are September 29, anniversary of the terrible radioactive waste storage tank explosion in 1957 at Kyshtim and again in April on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl devastation.

The Summit was cosponsored by Beyond Nuclear, Clean, Guacamole Fund, Loyola Student Environmental Alliance (the event was located at Loyola University), Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force  Nuclear Energy Information Service, and Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

(*1) The Principles for Safeguarding Radioactive Waste at Reactors can be found at

Fight over Yucca Mountain continues. The Obama Administration announced last year it would pursue other alternatives to the Yucca Mountain repository for the countries' high level waste. In March of this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) formally moved to withdraw its application to construct the facility by filing the request with the atomic licensing board. The three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled on June 29 that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 does not give the Energy secretary the discretion to substitute his policy for the one established by Congress in the act. “Unless Congress directs otherwise, DOE may not single-handedly derail the legislated decision-making process by withdrawing the Application,” said the board. The act requires a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the merits of the construction permit, added the board.

A DOE spokesperson said in a statement, “The Department remains confident that we have the legal authority to withdraw the application for the Yucca Mountain repository. We believe the administrative board’s decision is wrong and anticipate that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will reverse that decision.”, 2 July 2010

Source and contact: Mary Olson at NIRS


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