Berkeley leadership on America’s nuclear future

With America’s nuclear waste management program at an impasse, we have been anxiously awaiting word from President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future—with Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering Chair Per Peterson among its 15 distinguished members—on how to break the deadlock.

Formed in 2010 by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the direction of the President to examine U.S. policies for managing spent fuel and high-level waste, the Commission has recently issued its final report. Its core recommendations were designed to reflect a broad national consensus, according to Peterson, and have earned widespread endorsement, from industry to the Union of Concerned Scientists. A Department of Energy (DOE) task force is now studying how to implement the plan.

Key components of the Commission’s eight-point plan include transferring responsibility for managing nuclear waste from DOE to a new federally chartered corporation, and redirecting fees charged for nuclear waste disposal back from the general fund to their intended use. Number one was the adoption of a new consent-based approach to locating nuclear storage and disposal sites.

“We worked hard to model the kind of open process we should have had in place at the beginning,” says Peterson, who also chaired the Commission’s subcommittee on reactor and fuel cycle technology. Successful programs in Finland, France, Spain and Sweden, and a waste isolation pilot program in New Mexico, helped inform the effort.

Berkeley Engineering has had a long legacy of national leadership in nuclear engineering that continues to grow. Last June, the National Nuclear Security Administration awarded Berkeley $25 million to lead a multi-institution educational consortium, headed by Professor Jasmina Vujic, to support the nation’s nuclear nonproliferation mission through training and education.

As the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report states, “This generation has a fundamental ethical obligation to avoid burdening future generations with the entire task of finding a safe permanent solution for managing hazardous nuclear materials they had no part in creating.” We concur wholeheartedly.

As always, I invite your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry