LEGAL AND POLICY ISSUES IN SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL MANAGEMENT, DENVER, MARCH 18-19, 2019
Atomic (a.k.a. nuclear) energy law is the result of an extraordinary tension among national security, an unsatisfied national thirst for energy, and as the hazards became understood, environmental protection. The national security implications of atomic energy have always trumped every other beneficial or detrimental aspect of the application of atomic science and engineering to manufacturing, business, energy production or medical uses, etc. Although at its beginning it was touted as ‘energy too cheap to meter,’ the related costs of providing adequate safety and security are extraordinary. The central front on the domestic legal battlefield has been the dilemma of what to do with spent nuclear fuel. Spent nuclear fuel, both highly toxic and radioactive, increases at the rate of 2,000 metric tons per year in the United States alone; more than 77,000 metric tons (the current statutory cap on the incomplete national waste repository) is currently awaiting disposal. This spent nuclear fuel remains at the sites where it initially became highly toxic and radioactive, and these sites are scattered across the United States. Every aspect of the disposal question continues to be fueled by the political process, even down to whether it is a waste or a resource. The significant environmental ramifications to resolving this dilemma have resulted in a toxic political process built upon a technically complex and extraordinary legal and regulatory structure.
The principal aim of this course is to provide the student with an appreciation for the legal and policy challenges posed by current and future commercial nuclear activities. This course will analyze the legal and policy conundrum that has, and continues, to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, and billions of dollars in contract damage awards to commercial utilities resulting from the government’s failure to perform contractual obligations. We begin with a discussion of the policy and statutory origins for the intersection of atomic energy’s use in national security and commercial nuclear development and deployment. We then will examine specific topics, including nuclear waste classification and regulation; waste transportation; and, the contrasting stories for commercial versus Federal permanent radioactive waste disposal.
No prior scientific, technical or engineering knowledge is required.