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The Search for Tartarus: A History of Nuclear Waste Legislation

  • Room 24-213 77 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA (map)

Sam Brinton

MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering

From the wheat fields of Kansas to the Blue Ribbon Commission, nuclear waste politics continues to dominate the uncertainty of the future of nuclear energy in the public eye and this lecture will seek to address where that uncertainty is derived by tackling a specific aspect of that politics: retrievability. The necessity of retrieval of used nuclear fuel once it has been placed in a disposal system is one of great importance based on the ethical, economical, political, and environmental implications of the decision to maintain retrievability. The defining use of the word “retrieval” as it relates to the disposal of used nuclear fuel in a repository occurs in Section 122 of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. This section states that a repository will “be designed and constructed to permit the retrieval of any spent nuclear fuel placed in such repository, during an appropriate period of operation of the facility, for any reason pertaining to the public health and safety or the environment, or for the purpose of permitting the recovery of the economically valuable contents of such spent fuel.” Following the trail of this requirement from a decade before it was codified into law through hundreds of reports and proposed pieces of legislation will provide an example of the complex nature of nuclear waste legislation and policy with immediate implications to the current nuclear waste legislation battles.