KENNEWICK — Expectations have been dashed that Hanford will be relieved anytime soon of some of its burden of nuclear waste, said a parade of frustrated elected officials who spoke Thursday to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.
The commission, appointed to recommend a path forward for the nation's high-level radioactive defense waste and used commercial nuclear power fuel, visited the Tri-Cities for two days to learn how a large nuclear facility affects a community.
"The intensity of feeling was a surprise," said Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the commission, and former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
But "it's understandable that the people of this community would have deep concerns about a permanent repository," he said. "They've had a long and difficult experience at Hanford."
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The commission repeatedly was told that proceeding with the Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository would be the right thing to do.
"Over the last 30 years, Congress, independent studies, and every previous administration have voted for, pointed to and funded Yucca Mountain as the nation's best option for a nuclear repository," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement read by her staff because Congress was in session Thursday.
President Obama ordered the commission appointed after his administration moved to shut down the Nevada repository, as he had indicated he wanted to do as he campaigned. The commission was directed not to consider Yucca Mountain as an option.
But more recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied DOE's request to withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain.
The commission should push back against "arbitrary limits" on what it can study, said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement read by his staff.
Keeping Yucca Mountain on the table is critical to avoid otherwise certain delay in cleanup of nuclear waste, said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna in a statement read to the commission.
The commission cannot know how or when licensing matters before the NRC will be resolved, said Brent Scowcroft, co-chairman of the commission and the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
It will proceed with its mandate, unless it is directed otherwise by the Obama administration, he said.
"We are not a site selection committee," said Albert Carnesale, commission member and chancellor emeritus for the University of California Los Angeles. "No site is on the table."
If that is the case, then one site, Yucca Mountain, should not have been removed from consideration, Hastings said in his statement.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who traveled to Kennewick to address the commission, said a deep geological repository is the safest, most reliable long-term solution to store Hanford's high-level radioactive waste. But she has no confidence a site will be picked anytime soon, and "Hanford cannot wait," she said.
"Ultimately, we must be certain that our storage method for this waste is responsible, based on a strictly scientific and technical analysis," she said. "We can't pick a storage site for high-level radioactive waste by default. We must choose it, design it and use it. We need to keep all options on the table."
Temporary storage of the waste at Hanford may have to be considered until the nation has a deep geological repository, but the state will fight any additional waste being brought to Hanford, she said.
Even then the federal government will have to find a way to convince the people of Washington that the storage is temporary, not permanent, she said.
Storage at Hanford "is not what local communities bargained for," said Ed Revell, chairman of the governing board of the Hanford Communities, a coalition of Hanford-area local governments.
"As you explore other options, what confidence can we have that after another 30 years and billions of dollars that we will be any closer to a solution?" he asked.
Continuing to store high-level radioactive waste, including security costs and building facilities to store waste treated at the vitrification plant, will drain money that should be used on environmental cleanup, he said.
Hanford has been working toward shipping waste to Yucca Mountain, packaging used fuel to meet its requirements and designing the $12.3 billion vitrification plan to produce a glass waste form to meet its requirements, he said.
Most public officials who spoke at the meeting said stopping work on Yucca Mountain had been a blow to the Tri-City community. But in a statement read on behalf of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., she said that a more comprehensive waste solution is required.
The commission is expected to submit a draft report on its recommendation to the president next summer, with a final report due by the beginning of 2012. It is expected to cover a strategy to identify a deep geological repository, offer options for temporary storage of waste and consider whether the nation should plan for reuse of used commercial nuclear power fuel.
The presentations the commission members heard during their visit to Hanford and the Tri-Cities "have given valuable context and raised questions we must consider," Scowcroft said.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com