Bechtel International (retired)
I welcome all of you to this workshop. The topic we are to address in the next two days is extremely important and has significant long-range implications. At a time in history when war and terrorism fill our television programs and the headlines of our newspapers, it is not easy to focus on what are somewhat less urgent but perhaps in the long run equally important issues.
To help set the tone for our workshop I will first define the overall problem and then identify what role our workshop might play in developing a solution to the problem. The overall problem has two parts. The first part is to ensure that toxic materials do not enter the biosphere or environment in dangerous amounts. The second part is to ensure that fissionable materials are either controlled or destroyed so that irresponsible groups, including terrorists, cannot obtain critical quantities of weapons-usable material.
While science and technology may provide us with multiple options to address both parts of the problem, it is premature to select a single option for worldwide use. The development of technical options and the debate on risks versus benefits continues. The ultimate solution has not been selected. The first step, but a very important step, is to collect both fissionable material and other toxic materials and to provide secure storage until definitive solutions are decided upon. We all know that radioactive materials are not the only toxic materials; they are not even the most toxic materials, but our workshop will limit its scope to radioactive materials. Whether long-term storage becomes the method of disposal in the future, whether fissionable material is utilized or destroyed in the future, whether fission products and other radioactive materials are disposed of in geological repositories or transmuted into less dangerous materials in the future, these are all topics for future decisions. The topic of this workshop is how
to start the process by collecting these materials in centralized, secure locations so that the risk they might pose to society can be minimized while ultimate solutions are developed, debated, and then implemented.
Our challenge for the next two days is to discuss the issues that must be resolved before we can be assured that the nuclear material now in temporary storage in many locations throughout the world has been placed in safe and secure storage. This is especially important for the smaller temporary sites where the cost per fuel unit of waste to ensure safety is very high because of the relatively small amounts of material involved. A centralized storage facility is certainly an attractive option for such material and that really is the focus of our workshop. We have invited speakers to cover the technical, policy, and legal issues of such a centralized facility. This is to be a workshop to illuminate the issues. No attempt will be made to resolve the issues, nor will an attempt be made to obtain a consensus. Our objective is to define what needs to be done as the next step in moving toward a solution—and identifying what might be some of the options for doing so. We will be successful if in the end we have provided elements and options for a solution that can be used by the decision makers in resolving the problem.