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What now for nuclear waste?

With the nation’s policy on radioactive waste up in the air, experts and activists from across the country are gathering in Chicago this weekend for a National Grassroots Summit on Radioactive Waste Policy.

They’ll meet from Friday, June 4, through Sunday, June 6, at Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus, with a public forum on “A People’s History of Radioactive Waste” on Saturday afternoon, and workshops Friday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday mornings.

While cancelling a national radioactive waste storage site at Yucca Mountain earlier this year, President Obama also proposed tripling federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants.  In January, the Department of Energy announced a blue ribbon commission to come up with recommendations for managing nuclear waste.

The commission’s composition and agenda concerned environmental and anti-nuclear activists, said Dave Kraft of Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, one of the summit’s organizers.

“It looks like more of the same or worse ,” he said.  “We were extremely disappointed.  It looks like they’re fishing for a rationalization for reprocessing.”

Nuclear proponents have pushed reprocessing of nuclear fuel as a solution to waste problems; critics say reprocessing would increase costs, fail to solve storage issues, add to nuclear terrorism risks and undermine limits on fuel technology in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In response to concerns over the DOE commission, NEIS and other groups called the summit – with the goal of establishing a People’s Green Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Waste Future to monitor and critique the official commission.  The alternative commission will also gather public testimony and develop its own recommendations, which will be submitted to DOE.

Among those participating at this weekend’s summit will be activists from communities dealing with uranium mining, nuclear reactor decommissioning, and radioactive waste storage,  Kraft said.  One such long-term storage site is at Sheffield, Illinois, near Dixon, which was closed 30 years ago and later developed leaks, according to NEIS.

One question the summit will consider is what to do with 55,000 tons of nuclear waste already being stored temporarily at reactor sites, Kraft said.

The Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has also published “Advice for the Blue Ribbon Commission.”

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Category: energy, environment

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