Summary of Findings and Recommendations
The findings and recommendations from this report are reproduced in full in this summary. Additional background and supporting information can be found in the body of the report.
S.1 TRANSPORTATION SAFETY AND SECURITY
Based on its examination of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation in the United States, the committee developed a principal finding on transportation safety and a finding and recommendation on transportation security. These are described in greater detail in Chapter 5, Section 5.1.
PRINCIPAL FINDING ON TRANSPORTATION SAFETY: The committee could identify no fundamental technical barriers to the safe1 transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States. Transport by highway (for small-quantity shipments2) and by rail (for large-quantity shipments) is, from a technical viewpoint, a low-
As noted in Chapter 1, safety refers to measures taken to protect spent fuel and high-level waste from failure, damage, human error, and other inadvertent acts during transport operations.
This report identifies two general types of transportation programs, small-quantity shipping programs and large-quantity shipping programs. While there is no precise quantity demarcation between these two program types, the former involve the shipment on the order of tens of metric tons of spent fuel or high-level waste, while the latter involve the shipment on the order of hundreds to thousands of metric tons.
radiological-risk activity with manageable safety, health, and environmental consequences when conducted with strict adherence to existing regulations. However, there are a number of social and institutional challenges to the successful3 initial implementation of large-quantity shipping programs that will require expeditious resolution as described in this report. Moreover, the challenges of sustained implementation should not be underestimated.
The wording of this finding is carefully and narrowly constructed and is focused on the technical aspects of transportation programs and the conduct of transportation operations. It is predicated on the assumption that these technical tasks are being carried out with a high degree of care and in strict adherence to regulations. The finding is also based on an assessment of past and present transportation programs and would apply to future programs only to the extent that they continue to exercise appropriate care and adhere to applicable regulations.
PRINCIPAL FINDING ON TRANSPORTATION SECURITY: Malevolent acts against spent fuel and high-level waste shipments are a major technical and societal concern, especially following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The committee judges that some of its recommendations for improving transportation safety might also enhance transportation security. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is undertaking a series of security studies, but the committee was unable to perform an in-depth technical examination of transportation security because of information constraints.
RECOMMENDATION: An independent examination of the security of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation should be carried out prior to the commencement of large-quantity shipments to a federal repository or to interim storage. This examination should provide an integrated evaluation of the threat environment, the response of packages to credible malevolent acts, and operational security requirements for protecting spent fuel and high-level waste while in transport. This examination should be carried out by a technically knowledgeable group that is independent of the government and free from institutional and financial conflicts of interest. This group should be given full access to the necessary classified documents and Safeguards Information to carry out this task. The findings and recommen-
dations from this examination should be made available to the public to the fullest extent possible.
The committee was unable to perform this examination because much of the needed information is either classified or otherwise restricted. There appears to be sufficient information available, however, to undertake a substantive review of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation security by a cleared group if it is given unrestricted access to the relevant literature. The cooperation of several federal agencies would be required to obtain the information necessary to carry out this study.
S.2 TRANSPORTATION RISK
This report provides an examination of two types of transportation risks: health and safety risks and social risks. These risks arise both during normal transport operations and from accidents involving packages loaded with spent fuel or high-level waste. The health and safety risks arise from the potential exposure of transportation workers, as well as other people who travel, work, or live near transportation routes, to radiation that may be emitted or released from these packages. Social risks arise from social processes and human perceptions and can have both direct socioeconomic impacts and perception-based impacts. The health and safety risks and social risks are collectively referred to as societal risks in this report.
This report also provides comparisons between health and safety risks for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste and certain other risks that confront members of society. Comparisons are provided for both normal and severe accident conditions in Chapter 3 (see especially Figures 3.3 and 3.4). The committee’s objective in presenting these comparisons is to inform readers’ understanding about the risks of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation, not to persuade readers that such risks are—or are not—acceptable. Acceptability is a normative judgment; there is no basis in science for judging the acceptability of transportation risks.
FINDING: There are two potential sources of radiological exposures from transporting spent fuel and high-level waste: (1) radiation shine4 from spent fuel and high-level waste transport packages under normal transport conditions; and (2) potential increases in radiation shine and release of radioactive materials from transport packages under accident conditions that are severe enough to compromise fuel element and package integrity. The ra-
diological risks associated with the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste are well understood and are generally low, with the possible exception of risks from releases in extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires. While the likelihood of such extreme accidents appears to be very small, their occurrence cannot be ruled out based on historical accident data for other types of hazardous material shipments. However, the likelihood of occurrence and consequences can be reduced further through relatively simple operational controls and restrictions and route-specific analyses to identify and mitigate hazards that could lead to such accidents.
RECOMMENDATION: Transportation planners and managers should undertake detailed surveys of transportation routes to identify potential hazards that could lead to or exacerbate extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires. Planners and managers should also take steps to avoid or mitigate such hazards before the commencement of shipments or shipping campaigns.
Rigorous international standards and U.S. regulations for the design, construction, testing, and maintenance of spent fuel packages;
More than four decades of worldwide experience in transporting spent fuel without a significant release of radioactive materials during an accident;5 the broad sharing of information on experiences and best practices by transportation planners, implementers, and regulators through organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency promotes the continued maintenance of this safety record;
Full-scale crash testing of transport packages under severe accident conditions;
A series of increasingly sophisticated analytical studies of spent fuel transport package performance; and
Reconstructions of the mechanical and thermal loading conditions from severe accidents that did not involve spent fuel transport to asses how spent fuel packages would have performed under such conditions.
The finding that spent fuel transportation risks are “generally low” at present does not necessarily mean that such risks will continue to be low in
Minor releases have been reported in obsolete packages that are no longer approved for use for transporting spent fuel (see Table 3.3).
the future. Future risks depend on a number of factors (e.g., the care taken in fabricating transport packages and executing transportation operations). Ongoing vigilance by regulators and shippers will be essential for maintaining low-risk programs in the future, especially during the scale-up and operation of large-quantity shipping programs.
FINDING: The social risks for spent fuel and high-level waste transportation pose important challenges to the successful implementation of programs for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States. Such risks, which can result in lower property values along transportation routes, reductions in tourism, and increased anxiety, have received substantially less attention than health and safety risks, and some are difficult to characterize. Current research and practice suggest that transportation planners and managers can take early proactive steps to characterize, communicate, and manage the social risks that arise from their operations. Such steps may have additional benefits: they may increase the openness and transparency of transportation planning and programs; build community capacity to mitigate these risks; and possibly increase trust and confidence in transportation programs.
RECOMMENDATION: Transportation implementers should take early and proactive steps to establish formal mechanisms for gathering high-quality and diverse advice about social risks and their management on an ongoing basis. The committee makes two recommendations for the establishment of such mechanisms for the Department of Energy’s program to transport spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository at Yucca Mountain: (1) expand the membership and scope of an existing advisory group (Transportation External Coordination Working Group; see Chapter 5) to obtain outside advice on social risk, including impacts and management; and (2) establish a transportation risk advisory group that is explicitly designed to provide advice on characterizing, communicating, and mitigating the social, security, and health and safety risks that arise from the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository or interim storage. This group should be comprised of risk experts and practitioners drawn from the relevant technical and social science disciplines and should be convened under the Federal Advisory Committee Act or a similar arrangement to enhance the openness of its operations. Its members should receive security clearances to facilitate access to appropriate transportation security information. The existing federal Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, which will cease operations no later than one year after the Department of Energy begins disposal of spent fuel or high-level waste in a repository, could be broadened to serve this function.
This finding and recommendation spring from several factors: social risk is a poorly understood phenomenon; expert opinion frequently differs; the Department of Energy (DOE) does not, to the committee’s knowledge, have any precedent to guide its understanding and management of social risks; and most transportation program staff are not likely to be well acquainted with either theory or practice on this issue. Consequently, the committee concluded that broad input and advice on social risks will be essential to the establishment and ultimate success of large-quantity shipping programs to transport spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository or interim storage.
The recommendation outlines pragmatic steps that transportation implementers can take immediately and at relatively low cost to better understand and, working with affected communities, manage the social risks from their programs. The recommendation is focused primarily on DOE, but it would also apply to any program for shipping large quantities of spent fuel to a private interim storage site (e.g., Private Fuel Storage in Utah).
S.3 CURRENT CONCERNS ABOUT TRANSPORTATION OF SPENT FUEL AND HIGH-LEVEL WASTE
The report examines two current concerns about transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States: (1) the performance of packages used to transport spent fuel and high-level waste under both normal and extreme mechanical forces and thermal loading conditions; and (2) the procedures used by DOE to select highway and rail routes for shipping research reactor spent fuel between DOE facilities in the United States.6
S.3.1 Package Performance
Package performance—the ability of a transportation package to maintain a high level of containment effectiveness in long-term routine use and under extreme mechanical forces and thermal loading conditions—is a crucial issue for transportation safety and key to understanding and quantifying transportation risks. Packages used to transport spent fuel and high-level waste are robust structures typically constructed of steel, lead, depleted uranium, and(or) concrete to provide structural strength and durability as well as radiation shielding. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has established safety standards for such packages, and these standards are
reflected in regulations (10 CFR Part 71) issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). Packages used in the United States must meet testing requirements in 10 CFR Part 71 involving a free-drop test onto an essentially unyielding surface, a puncture test, an immersion test, and a thermal test, all with less than the specified loss of containment effectiveness. The USNRC permits quantitative analysis, scale-model, and full-scale testing of packages or package components and comparisons with existing approved package designs to be used to demonstrate such compliance. Testing of full-scale packages is not a requirement of the regulations. Some participants at the committee’s information-gathering meetings asserted that full-scale testing should be required and that some tests to intentionally destroy the packages should be carried out, presumably to establish their ultimate strength.
There is a good deal of quantitative information available on the performance of transportation packages under extreme loading conditions. This information is derived from analytical, computer modeling, scale-model, and full-scale testing studies carried out in the United States and abroad over the past three decades. Additional work is now under way at the USNRC to examine the effects on package performance of severe accidents and very long duration, fully engulfing fires.
FINDING: Transportation packages play a crucial role in the safety of spent fuel and high-level waste shipments by providing a robust barrier to the release of radiation and radioactive material under both normal transport and accident conditions. International Atomic Energy Agency package performance standards and associated Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations are adequate to ensure package containment effectiveness over a wide range of transport conditions, including most credible accident conditions. However, recently published work suggests that extreme accident scenarios involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires might produce thermal loading conditions sufficient to compromise containment effectiveness. The consequences of such thermal loading conditions for containment effectiveness are the subject of ongoing investigations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other parties, and this work is improving the understanding of package performance. Nonetheless, additional analyses and experimentation are needed to demonstrate a bounding-level understanding of package performance in response to very long duration, fully engulfing fires for a representative set of package designs.
RECOMMENDATION: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should build on recent progress in understanding package performance in very long duration fires. To this end, the agency should undertake additional analyses of very long duration fire scenarios that bound expected real-
world accident conditions for a representative set of package designs that are likely to be used in future large-quantity shipping programs. The objectives of these analyses should be to
Understand the performance of package barriers (spent fuel cladding and package seals);
Estimate the potential quantities and consequences of any releases of radioactive material; and
Examine the need for regulatory changes (e.g., package testing requirements) or operational changes (e.g., restrictions on trains carrying spent fuel) either to help prevent accidents that could lead to such fire conditions or to mitigate their consequences.
Strong consideration should also be given to performing well-instrumented tests for improving and validating the computer models used for carrying out these analyses, perhaps as part of the full-scale test planned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its package performance study.
Based on the results of these investigations, the Commission should implement operational controls and restrictions on spent fuel and high-level waste shipments as necessary to reduce the chances that such fire conditions might be encountered in service. Such effective steps might include, for example, additional operational restrictions on trains carrying spent fuel and high-level waste to prevent co-location with trains carrying flammable materials in tunnels, in rail yards, and on sidings.
FINDING: The committee strongly endorses the use of full-scale testing to determine how packages will perform under both regulatory and credible extraregulatory conditions. Package testing in the United States and many other countries is carried out using good engineering practices that combine state-of-the-art structural analyses and physical tests to demonstrate containment effectiveness. Full-scale testing is a very effective tool both for guiding and validating analytical engineering models of package performance and for demonstrating the compliance of package designs with performance requirements. However, deliberate full-scale testing of packages to destruction through the application of forces that substantially exceed credible accident conditions would be marginally informative and is not justified given the considerable costs for package acquisitions that such testing would require.
RECOMMENDATION: Full-scale package testing should continue to be used as part of integrated analytical, computer simulation, scale-model, and testing programs to validate package performance. Deliberate full-scale
testing of packages to destruction should not be required as part of this integrated analysis or for compliance demonstrations.
S.3.2 Route Selection for Research Reactor Spent Fuel Transport
DOE transports and stores spent fuel from foreign and U.S. research reactors at two facilities: the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory. Foreign research reactor spent fuel is transported by ship to the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina. From there it is transported by rail or highway to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Some of these shipments continue onward to the Idaho National Laboratory using one of three highway routes established by DOE in consultation with states and tribes. A 2001 shipment of foreign research reactor spent fuel across one of these routes prompted a congressional mandate to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for a National Academies examination of the procedures used by DOE to select routes for highway and rail shipments of this fuel. That examination was carried out as part of this study because it is a good example of a current concern for transporting spent fuel. The committee’s examination of DOE’s routing practices resulted in the following findings and recommendations.
FINDING: The Department of Energy’s procedures for selecting routes within the United States for shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel appear on the whole to be adequate and reasonable. These procedures are risk informed; they make use of standard risk assessment methodologies in identifying a suite of potential routes and then make final route selections by taking into account security, state and tribal preferences, and information from states and tribes on local transport conditions. The Department of Energy’s procedures reflect the agency’s position (which is consistent with Department of Transportation regulations) that the states are competent and responsible for selecting highway routes. For rail route selection, the Department of Energy’s practice of negotiating routes with carriers in consultation with states is analogous to its interaction with states on highway routing.
RECOMMENDATION: The Department of Energy should continue to ensure the systematic, effective involvement of states and tribal governments in its decisions involving routing and scheduling of foreign and DOE research reactor spent fuel shipments.
FINDING: Highway routes for shipment of spent nuclear fuel are dictated by DOT regulations (49 CFR Part 397). The regulations specify that ship-
ments normally must travel by the fastest route using highways designated by the states or the federal government. They do not require the carrier or shipper to evaluate risks of portions of routes that meet this criterion. These regulations are a satisfactory means of ensuring safe transportation, provided that the shipper actively and systematically consults with the states and tribes along potential routes and that states follow the route designation procedures prescribed by the DOT.
RECOMMENDATION: DOT should ensure that states that designate routes for shipment of spent nuclear fuel rigorously comply with its regulatory requirement that such designations be supported by sound risk assessments. DOT and DOE should ensure that all potentially affected states are aware of and prepared to fulfill their responsibilities regarding highway route designations.
S.4 FUTURE CONCERNS FOR TRANSPORTATION OF SPENT FUEL AND HIGH-LEVEL WASTE
The examination of future concerns focused on five operational issues and one organizational issue related to the federal program for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Appendix C). Although these recommendations are focused on DOE’s program for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository or interim storage facility, some of them also apply to any large-quantity shipping program, whether federally or privately operated.
S.4.1 Mode for Transporting Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste to a Federal Repository
DOE has decided that it will ship spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository using the “mostly rail” option defined in its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Yucca Mountain. DOE estimates that this option will require 9600 rail shipments and 1100 highway shipments to transport the legally mandated limit of 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel and high-level waste to the repository. To implement this option, DOE must construct a 319-mile (~513-kilometer) rail spur in Nevada and may have to make other infrastructure improvements to provide rail access at commercial nuclear sites. DOE must also procure a fleet of rail packages and railcars. If DOE fails to complete these tasks prior to the opening of the federal repository, legal and contractual obligations to accept spent fuel may create pressure for it to initiate a large-scale interim shipping program using trucks.
FINDING: Transport of spent fuel and high-level waste by rail has clear safety, operational, and policy advantages over highway transport for large-quantity shipping programs. The committee strongly endorses DOE’s selection of the “mostly rail” option for the Yucca Mountain transportation program for the following reasons:
It reduces the total number of shipments to the federal repository by roughly a factor of five, which reduces the potential for routine radiological exposures, conventional traffic accidents, and severe accidents (Table 3.8).
Rail shipments have a greater physical separation from other vehicular traffic and reduced interactions with people along transportation routes, which also contributes to safety.
Operational logistics are simpler and more efficient.
There is a clear public preference for this option.
The committee does not endorse the development of an extended truck transportation program to ship spent fuel cross-country or within Nevada should DOE fail to complete construction of the Nevada rail spur or procure the necessary rail equipment by the time the federal repository is opened.
RECOMMENDATION: DOE should fully implement its mostly rail decision by completing construction of the Nevada rail spur, obtaining the needed rail packages and conveyances, and working with commercial spent fuel owners to ensure that facilities are available at plants to support this option. These steps should be completed before DOE commences the large-quantity shipment of spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository to avoid the need to procure infrastructure and construct facilities to support an extended truck transportation program. DOE should also examine the feasibility of further reducing its needs for cross-country truck shipments of spent fuel through the expanded use of intermodal transportation (i.e., combining heavy-haul truck, legal-weight truck, and barge) to allow the shipment of rail packages from plants that do not have direct rail access.
S.4.2 Route Selection for Transportation to a Federal Repository
DOE’s program to transport spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository will involve shipments from more than 70 sites in 31 states, most passing through or near one or more major U.S. metropolitan centers. DOE did not designate routes for these shipments in its final EIS for Yucca Mountain but instead plans to make selections about five years before the federal repository opens. Once DOE selects routes, it may be required to
undertake selected route infrastructure improvements before any shipments can be made. It also must decide on safety and security procedures, arrangements for state inspections of shipments, communications and tracking, emergency responder training, and handling of en route contingencies. Most of these operations would be carried out by contractors.
FINDING: DOE has not made public a specific plan for selecting rail and highway routes for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository. DOE also has not determined the role of its program management contractors in selecting routes or specific plans for collaborating with affected states, tribes, and other parties.
RECOMMENDATION: DOE should identify and make public its suite of preferred highway and rail routes for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository as soon as practicable to support state, tribal, and local planning, especially for emergency responder preparedness. DOE should follow the practices of its foreign research reactor spent fuel transport program of involving states and tribes in these route selections to obtain access to their familiarity with accident rates, traffic and road conditions, and emergency responder preparedness within their jurisdictions. Involvement by states and tribes may improve the public acceptability of route selections and may reduce conflicts that can lead to program delays.
S.4.3 Use of Dedicated Trains for Transport to a Federal Repository
There has been a long-running controversy in the United States about whether rail shipments of spent fuel and high-level waste should be carried out using dedicated trains, which would carry only spent fuel or high-level waste, or general trains, which would carry other freight in addition to spent fuel or high-level waste. DOE’s final EIS for Yucca Mountain did not provide a detailed analysis of the benefits of dedicated trains to support a decision on this issue. However, a decision by DOE to use dedicated trains was announced in July 2005.
FINDING: Studies carried out to date on transporting spent fuel by dedicated versus general trains have failed to show a clear radiological risk-based advantage for either option. However, the committee finds that there are clear operational, safety, security, communications, planning, programmatic, and public preference advantages that favor dedicated trains. The committee strongly endorses DOE’s decision to transport spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository using dedicated trains.
RECOMMENDATION: DOE should fully implement its dedicated train decision before commencing the large-quantity shipment of spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository to avoid the need for a stopgap shipping program using general trains.
S.4.4 Acceptance Order for Commercial Spent Fuel Transport to a Federal Repository
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) specifies that DOE must accept spent fuel based on the amount and order in which it was discharged from owners’ reactors. Each time a commercial nuclear plant discharges fuel from its reactor, the owner receives an allocation in the “acceptance queue” to ship an equivalent amount of spent fuel to a federal repository. DOE will accept commercial spent fuel for shipment to the federal repository starting at the beginning of the queue and will work its way through the queue during the planned 24-year life of the transportation program. The NWPA allows owners to make available to DOE for shipment to the federal repository any spent fuel from any of their sites for each of their allocations in the acceptance queue. There are two exceptions to this requirement: (1) DOE may accord priority for acceptance of spent nuclear fuel from reactors that have been permanently shut down; and (2) with the approval of DOE, owners of spent fuel can exchange positions in the acceptance queue.
The order for accepting commercial spent fuel that is mandated by the NWPA could require DOE to initiate its transportation program with movements of spent fuel from multiple, geographically dispersed sites. Further, it gives DOE limited control over the age and radiological content of the fuel that is provided by owners for transport. Shipping older fuel first would give DOE a better ability to optimize routing, scheduling, and emergency responder planning and training, especially during the early phases of the program.
FINDING: The order for accepting commercial spent fuel that is mandated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) was not designed with the transportation program in mind. In fact, the acceptance order prescribed by the NWPA could require DOE to initiate its transportation program with long cross-country movements of younger (i.e., radiologically and thermally hotter) spent fuel from multiple commercial sites. There are clear transportation operations and safety advantages to be gained from shipping older (i.e., radiologically and thermally cooler) spent fuel first and for initiating the transportation program with relatively short, logistically simple movements to gain experience and build operator and public confidence.
RECOMMENDATION: DOE should negotiate with commercial spent fuel owners to ship older fuel first to a federal repository or federal interim storage, except in cases (if any) where spent fuel storage risks at specific plants dictate the need for more immediate shipments of younger fuel. Should these negotiations prove to be ineffective, Congress should consider legislative remedies. Within the context of its current contracts with commercial spent fuel owners, DOE should initiate transport through a pilot program involving relatively short, logistically simple movements of older fuel from closed reactors to demonstrate the ability to carry out its responsibilities in a safe and operationally effective manner. DOE should use the lessons learned from this pilot activity to initiate its full-scale transportation program from operating reactors.
S.4.5 Emergency Response Planning and Training
The transportation of spent nuclear fuel to a federal repository would utilize the same state and local emergency response capabilities that are in place to deal with existing materials transport accidents and incidents (see Appendix C). However, DOE has special responsibilities under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act for providing technical assistance and funding to states and tribal nations for training on both routine transportation procedures and emergency response. DOE will not begin providing such support until it identifies the routes for shipping spent fuel and high-level waste to Yucca Mountain.
FINDING: Emergency responder preparedness is an essential element of safe and effective programs for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste. Emergency responder preparedness has so far received limited attention from DOE, states, and tribes for the planned transportation program to the federal repository. DOE has the opportunity to be innovative in carrying out its responsibilities for emergency responder preparedness. Emergency responders are among the most trusted members of their communities. Well-trained responders can become important emissaries for DOE’s transportation program in local communities and can enhance community preparedness to respond to other kinds of emergencies.
RECOMMENDATION: DOE should begin immediately to execute its emergency responder preparedness responsibilities defined in Section 180(c) of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. In carrying out these responsibilities, DOE should proceed to (1) establish a cadre of professionals from the emergency responder community who have training and comprehension of emergency response to spent fuel and high-level waste transportation accidents and
incidents; (2) work with the Department of Homeland Security to provide consolidated “all-hazards” training materials and programs for first responders that build on the existing national emergency response platform; (3) include trained emergency responders on the escort teams that accompany spent fuel and high-level waste shipments; and (4) use emergency responder preparedness programs as an outreach mechanism to communicate broadly about plans and programs for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository with communities along planned shipping routes.
These recommended innovations are also potentially applicable to the transportation program operated by Private Fuel Storage. The committee judges that there would be significant benefits to that program in terms of capacity and public confidence building through early and innovative actions to support emergency responder preparedness.
S.4.6 Information Sharing and Openness
Some participants at the committee’s information-gathering meetings expressed concerns that federal agencies, in reaction to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are withholding information that could help the public evaluate the safety and security of spent fuel and high-level waste shipments. The committee itself encountered information restrictions in its efforts to obtain information on the number of past spent fuel shipments in the United States.
FINDING: There is a conflict between the open sharing of information on spent fuel and high-level waste shipments and the security of transportation programs. This conflict is impeding effective risk communication and may reduce public acceptance and confidence. Post–September 11, 2001, efforts by transportation planners, managers, and regulators to further restrict information about spent fuel shipments make it difficult for the public to assess the safety and security of transportation operations.
RECOMMENDATION: The Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission should promptly complete the job of developing, applying, and disclosing consistent, reasonable, and understandable criteria for protecting sensitive information about spent fuel and high-level waste transportation. They should also commit to the open sharing of information that does not require such protection and should facilitate timely access to such information: for example, by posting it on readily accessible Web sites.
The public has a general right, subject to legitimate privacy and national security restrictions, to obtain information about government programs that affect their communities. Some general information is appropriate to share before shipments commence: This includes the reasons for making the shipments; information about the materials to be shipped; likely shipping modes; and general shipping time frames. Appropriate post-shipment information includes more details on the shipments, including specific modes and routes used for the shipments; the timing of shipments and quantities of materials shipped; accidents and incidents during the shipments; and any resulting response actions.
S.4.7 Organizational Structure of the Federal Transportation Program
The program for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository is embedded within the DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. This agency is responsible for licensing, constructing, and operating the planned repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Certain characteristics of the Yucca Mountain transportation program will make it exceptionally challenging to carry out successfully. The transportation program
Will last for more than two decades;
Is decentralized and involves a large number of parties in both government and the private sector over which DOE has limited control;
Must operate with a high degree of consistency and reliability;
Has limited flexibility over schedules because of spent fuel acceptance requirements; and
Has limited budgetary control within DOE and is subject to the annual congressional appropriations process.
The transportation program is unusual in another sense: The committee knows of no other federal government-run program that has a requirement to take ownership of private-sector waste for the purposes of transport and disposal. Such programs are usually private-sector responsibilities.
FINDING: Successful execution of DOE’s program to transport spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository will be difficult given the organizational structure in which it is embedded, despite the high quality of many current program staff. As currently structured, the program has limited flexibility over commercial spent fuel acceptance order (Section 5.2.4); it also has limited control over its budget and is subject to the annual federal appropriations process, both of which affect the program’s ability to plan for, procure, and construct the needed transportation infrastruc-
ture. Moreover, the current program may have difficulty supporting what appears to be an expanding future mission to transport commercial spent nuclear fuel for interim storage or reprocessing. In the committee’s judgment, changing the organizational structure of this program will improve its chances for success.
RECOMMENDATION: The Secretary of Energy and the U.S. Congress should examine options for changing the organizational structure of the Department of Energy’s program for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to a federal repository. The following three alternative organizational structures, which are representative of progressively greater organizational change, should be specifically examined: (1) a quasi-independent DOE office reporting directly to upper-level DOE management; (2) a quasi-government corporation; or (3) a fully private organization operated by the commercial nuclear industry. The latter two options would require changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The primary objectives in modifying the structure should be to give the transportation program greater planning authority; greater budgetary flexibility to make the multiyear commitments necessary to plan for, procure, and construct the necessary transportation infrastructure; and greater flexibility to support an expanding future mission to transport spent fuel and high-level waste for interim storage or reprocessing. Whatever structure is selected, the organization should place a strong emphasis on operational safety and reliability and should be responsive to social concerns.
The committee strongly encourages the program to seek expert advice to learn about and incorporate best industry practices for designing and operating this transportation system using an integrated systems approach.