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A Decentralized Model for U.S. Nuclear Waste Management

With Yucca dying on the vine, two experts propose that spent fuel from American reactors should be handled on a regional basis, the way it is in Europe

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Writing in today’s issue of Science magazine, two well-respected academic experts propose a new national strategy for U.S. nuclear waste disposal. Drawing lessons from the 22-year failed effort to establish a permanent geologic repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, Rodney  Ewing (Michigan) and Frank von Hippel (Princeton) say it was an obvious mistake to try to force the facility down the throats of unwilling Nevadans. They also declare unfortunate the very long time it took the Environmental Protection Agency  to produce an environmental assessment, and the fact that the assessment was site-specific rather than generic to any proposed nuclear waste repository.

Taking cues from more successful planning for permanent nuclear waste disposal in Sweden, Finland, and France, Ewing and von Hippel propose that U.S. disposal policy should be regionalized. States in which nuclear power plants operate should develop their own permanent disposal plans, perhaps in combination with each other and perhaps in line with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s zones. EPA should formulate generic performance standards suitable for any facility.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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