(NuClean) Assessment and Perception of Risks Associated with Spent Fuel and High-Level Nuclear Waste


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Chris Whipple of Environ presents on the risks of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste. He discusses the public's perception of these risk and the best methods to communicate with the public on actual risks.

The NuClean Kick-Off workshop was held on Nov. 7, 2013 at the Handlery Union Square Hotel in San Francisco, CA, co-located with the AIChE 2013 Annual Meeting.

For more information on NuClean, visit: http://www.aiche.org/cei/conferences/nuclean-workshop/2013.

For more information on AIChE's Center for Energy Initiatives (CEI), visit: http://www.aiche.org/cei.

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(NuClean) Assessment and Perception of Risks Associated with Spent Fuel and High-Level Nuclear Waste

  1. 1. Assessment and Perception of Risks Associated with Spent Fuel and HighLevel Nuclear Waste Chris Whipple Presented at the AIChE Annual Conference San Francisco, November 7, 2013
  2. 2. Outline •  Current need for and approach to managing spent reactor fuel and high-level waste •  What has changed since the Blue Ribbon Commission report? •  Risk Communication basics applied to nuclear waste
  3. 3. Is a facility needed? •  Quick answer – One will be needed eventually. •  More considered answer – Water reactors and dry cask storage work well, so we should not let waste management concerns push us to a nuclear power system that is not economic or technically mature. •  Need to get spent fuel off sites where power reactors are closed – this could be done by moving spent fuel to operating reactor sites or to a central storage facility. •  Need to continue to convert DOE wastes to stable waste forms.
  4. 4. What should the process to develop a US disposal system look like? •  Selection of a site with local support worked at WIPP; nuclear waste negotiator efforts to find volunteer HLW site did not. •  Progress in Finland and Sweden is cited, but differences in culture (small homogeneous populations) and political systems (absence of strong state governments) appear to limit the analogy.
  5. 5. What has changed since the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) report?* •  The BRC concluded that the conflict from the siting approach defined in the 1987 waste Act Amendments as “a policy that has been troubled for decades and has now all but completely broken down.” •  The first (of 8) strategy elements recommended by the BRC is “A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.” *The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future report is available at http://energy.gov/ne/downloads/blue-ribbon-commissionamericas-nuclear-future-report-secretary-energy.
  6. 6. Why is Radioactive Waste Disposal Difficult? •  Fear of cancer •  Mystique of radiation •  Linkage to nuclear power and nuclear weapons •  Perceived unfairness to nearby residents •  Non-health concerns, e.g., property values, institutional durability and integrity
  7. 7. It Could Be Worse! •  Operating experience of U.S. nuclear power plants has been excellent for the past several decades •  Concerns with other energy sources are visible, e.g., CO2, opposition to fracking •  Medical benefits of radiation-based technologies appreciated
  8. 8. What Not to Do Risk Communication and Nuclear Power •  Presumed that quantitative risk estimates determine attitudes toward technology •  Comparisons chosen to trivialize nuclear risks, e.g., “safer than riding a bicycle” •  Implicit argument: people are irrational to worry about small risks such as from nuclear power
  9. 9. What Not to Do, continued •  Public disagreements between industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission brought competence of regulators into question •  Concern that plant would blow up like nuclear bomb not addressed because such accidents are physically impossible
  10. 10. Insights for Radioactive Waste Communications 1.  When possible, make risks controllable, voluntary, and well-managed - Look for issues on which to give the community some control –  Emphasize independent oversight –  Explain monitoring plans and monitoring requirements measurable concentrations are more controllable than invisible risks – understand the value of monitoring and openness about data –  Emphasize benefits
  11. 11. Insights for Radioactive Waste Communications 2.  Understand that the community expects to be protected and accept this responsibility –  Don’t “trivialize” the risks; this indicates complacency –  Don’t expect hazardous substances to be “innocent until proven guilty” –  Don’t expect national benefits to justify local risks –  Don’t mix cancer and cost in the same sentence
  12. 12. Insights for Radioactive Waste Communications 3.  Treat people’s concerns with respect and compassion –  Fear of cancer and substances that might add to cancer risk is reasonable –  Don’t be defensive or have a closed mind to the possibility that not every contingency has been considered –  Personalize your responses when appropriate
  13. 13. Insights for Radioactive Waste Communications 4.  Protect your credibility –  Associate your position with that of more credible sources regarding risk –  Don’t send engineers to discuss medical issues (especially low dose radiation health risks) or M.D.s to discuss hydrogeology –  Say “I don’t know” when you don’t, and follow up with information later
  14. 14. Insights for Radioactive Waste Communications 5.  Don’t make enemies out of potential allies –  Keep your workers informed about your risk issues and how you are managing them –  Recognize that you and your regulators have a common interest in safety and in good relations with the community