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December 13, 2017

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Moniz: U.S. needs ‘consent-based process’ for nuclear waste storage

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Mikayla Whitmore

Former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz speaks during a panel at the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 at the Bellagio on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.

National Clean Energy Summit 9.0

Former Vice President Al Gore gives the keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 at the Bellagio on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Launch slideshow »

A consent-based process is needed when it comes to disposing of the country’s spent nuclear fuel, says former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Moniz, who served under the Obama administration and was part of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, spoke about Yucca Mountain at the National Clean Energy Summit today in Las Vegas.

“There were shortcomings, technical shortcomings with Yucca Mountain,” Moniz said. “Ultimately, that is a (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) decision about whether those shortcomings are a showstopper or not.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission made its recommendations in 2012 to then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Moniz took over the job in 2013.

Moniz said one of the recommendations that was made was to look at different geologies for storage, such as consolidated above-ground or basement-level sites that would still get the fuel moved away from nuclear reactors. He pointed out that Texas has already applied to host a temporary storage site.

“In the end, we’re not going to get there without a consent-based process, which we think is credible,” Moniz said. “It appears it would take more time. However, if you look at the history, we’ve already taken a lot more time and gotten nowhere. In Europe, in Scandinavia, for example, a consent-based process has actually led to competition for a site and it’s moving forward.”

Nevada officials have staunchly opposed the Yucca Mountain project, based on concerns that the high-level radioactive waste that would be stored at the facility could escape through the air or into the groundwater, and the threat of an accident or terrorist attack involving truck and train shipments of waste being transported through Las Vegas.

Yucca Mountain tour

People stand inside of Yucca Mountain during a congressional tour Thursday, April 9, 2015, near Mercury, Nev. Several members of congress toured the proposed radioactive wast dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) Launch slideshow »

On other topics, Moniz said investment in “deep innovation” to reduce carbon emissions — the kind that might not pay off for 20 or 30 years — was lagging.

Although growth of renewable energy production, electrification of vehicles and other advancements have been positive steps, Moniz said, large-scale carbon management would require much more — hydrogen power development, biological solutions such as genetically modified plants that take up carbon dioxide from the air more efficiently than naturally occurring plants, and electrostatic vacuum cleaners that remove carbon particulates from the air, for example.

“We need other breakthroughs,” he said.

Appearing after former Vice President Al Gore, Moniz shared Gore’s opinion that the U.S. would meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement.

“Fourteen-hundred businessmen and businesswomen came out afterward and said they weren’t going to change course,” he said. “Let’s face it: Just about everybody understands where we’re going. If you’re making long-term decisions and capital allocations, you’d be crazy to base them on a high-carbon future.”