By Elena Hight
Summer Quarterly 2017
Just a few months ago, you could google consent- based siting and instantly find the Department of Energy’s webpage on the process, filled with documents, videos, and infographics on their plan to site nuclear waste. Now, all you can find are these two sentences: “Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect the Department’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Secretary Perry.”
Over 10,000 public comments are gone; detailed explanations of the integrated waste management and interim storage facilities have vanished; and videos from the eight public meetings held in 2015 and 2016 are nowhere to be found. There is nothing but those two sentences. Just like there is nothing about consent-based siting in the 2018 federal budget proposal issued in April.
The Department of Energy began the consent-based siting process in 2015 after withdrawing its license application for construction on Yucca Mountain in 2010, a project that was widely unpopular in Nevada. The DOE held eight meetings in different cities across the US to discuss how they should go about siting more than 70,000 tons of nuclear waste created from nuclear energy production and nuclear defense programs. In the feedback the DOE received from those meetings and an open comment period, many nuclear activists and concerned citizens expressed their doubt that any such process could truly have the consent of every person affected by the nuclear waste repositories and interim storage facilities. Others said that the nuclear energy companies along with the department of defense, and not the community members whose well-being could be directly affected by the hazardous waste, should bear the brunt of the cost and effort needed to safely store the hazardous material.
While the process was flawed, it was at least better than reverting to a plan that had already been rejected due to its lack of safety and public approval. Yet that is, of course, what the Trump administration plans to do. The 2018 budget proposal states, “The FY 2018 Yucca Mountain and Interim Storage Programs’ FY 2018 Budget Request is dedicated to resuming the NRC licensing process for Yucca Mountain and initiation of a robust interim storage program,” claiming this step is necessary “to accelerate progress on fulfilling the Federal Government’s obligations to address nuclear waste, enhance national security, and reduce future taxpayer burden.”
And yes, Yucca Mountain may hasten federal government’s ability to fulfill its obligations, and it could reduce taxpayer burden, a burden that has been increasing since 1998 when the government began paying damages to nuclear energy companies for continuing to store spent nuclear fuel on-site. But it is just as likely that it will waste time, energy, and money on a site that has already been deemed unsafe and untenable. Above all though, it shows the Trump administration’s willingness and eagerness to disregard public input and to ignore the political and ethical implications of such a move. It shows its willingness to act without consent.
—Elena Hight is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.