Managing Radioactive Waste

New in the OTA Archive is the report, Managing Commercial High-Level Radioactive Waste Summary (April, 1982).  This summary was not included in the OTA Legacy CD that was released when OTA closed.  Publishing a “summary” before its longer “report” was unusual for OTA. This shorter format  gave OTA the ability to provide information for legislative processes that were outrunning the completion of a lengthier report.

In 1978, the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee asked OTA to study ocean disposal of nuclear waste.   In 1979, several Senate and House Committees asked that OTA expand its study to include all modes of disposal of high-level radioactive waste.   At that time, comprehensive high-level waste management legislation introduced in both Houses started a round of hearings and debates that spanned nearly four years

OTA’s Congressional Board (TAB) at that time included several members who were dealing with radioactive waste issues in their committees: Representatives Dingell, Udall, and George Brown. At their request, TAB asked OTA not just to summarize the technical information, but to provide an understanding of how pieces of the issue fit together and to contribute toward a resolution of the problem.

Requests from Congress for interim information from OTA began as early as 1979 when the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works asked for an analysis of issues associated with the interim storage of spent fuel. OTA responded with a detailed letter, the first of many documents (legislative analyses, staff papers, testimony, etc.) that OTA contributed to the development of comprehensive nuclear waste legislation.  The final report was deferred while OTA provided highly-focused inputs to the legislative process as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) evolved, according to the project director, Thomas Cotton.

The 1982 Summary was unusual for OTA in another way.  It presented only one set of policy options rather than the range of options usually found in OTA reports. According to the Summary:

In conducting the study, OTA analyzed a wide range of views-from
the technical community, Federal agencies, the nuclear industry, the environmental community, State and local officials, and the lay public. As a result of that effort, OTA identified the basic elements of an integrated high-level radioactive waste management policy that responds to the key concerns of the major affected parties. For that reason, we believe it could form the basis for the consensus needed to break the stalemate on waste disposal.

OTA presented the findings of the study October, 1981, in testimony before the committees sponsoring the draft legislation – the Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment and Public Works Committees in the Senate and the Science and Technology Committee in the House.  The Summary was issued in April, 1982, at the time of the floor debates on Senate’s bill.  According to the 1982 Summary:

OTA’s fundamental finding is that, if history is not to repeat itself over and over again, and the stalemate on nuclear waste is not to continue, a comprehensive policy is needed that commands the support and addresses the concerns of all major interested parties, makes a formal Federal commitment to developing several disposal facilities according to a firm and conservative schedule, and guarantees the financial and managerial resources required to meet that commitment.

With passage of NWPA, OTA reviewed the draft of the full report and decided to update it to reflect the passage of the Act and new technical information.  The implementation of NWPA became the focus of the final report, which was published in 1985 as Managing the Nations Commercial High-Level Radioactive Waste (with its own summary).