DOE dog and pony show re: “consent-based siting”

DOE consent based

On Thursday, November 9, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) held a so-called “open house,” regarding its so-called “consent-based siting” scheme for high-level radioactive waste “consolidated interim storage facilities” (CISFs). See DOE’s “consent-based siting” homepage, here.

It turned out that DOE, and its dozen consortia representing the nuclear power industry, academia, a half-dozen Native American tribal councils and tribally-affiliated groups, etc. had held a secretive multi-day meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. Only at its “open house” did DOE even let that be known. Thus, nuclear watchdogs in Cleveland and the surrounding area were denied the opportunity to attend all or part of the multi-day event, funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars.

DOE (and its sibling agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration) are funded with several tens of billions of dollars of federal taxpayer money, per year, including the large salaries and benefits of the numerous DOE Office of Nuclear Energy staff, as well as their contractors, present at this meeting. In addition, DOE has awarded each of the consortia $2 million to take part in this scheme, awards that will undoubtedly be supplemented with yet more largesse, at public expense, year after year into the future of this ill-conceived program. Transparency and accountability were thus violated.

As for the “open house” itself, it was suspiciously short. After a 20 minute introduction, DOE opened up the comment/Q&A session, which went on for only 40 minutes, at which point the meeting was abruptly ended. Comments/questions could only be submitted in writing via the Q&A box in the Microsoft Team Meetings platform where the meeting was broadcast. Many, to most, to all of the questions read out loud and supposedly answered by DOE and/or its consortia awardees were quite softball in nature. It all felt very scripted and orchestrated, to further promote DOE’s wrongheaded scheme. Did DOE and/or its consortia awardees write the softball questions themselves, to advance their dangerous agenda? The entire session felt like nothing more than a check-the-box DOE public relations exercise, a mere illusion of a public meeting. DOE did not even list who the on-line attendees were, nor announce how many. In these and other ways, the entire “open house” was tightly controlled by DOE, for its own purposes.

Lending credence to such suspicions, Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps submitted 15 questions/comments (listed below). Not a single one of his questions/comments were addressed at the meeting by DOE or its consortia awardees. Another meeting attendee from another anti-nuke watchdog group has confirmed that she too submitted questions during the meeting, none of which were raised nor addressed by DOE. How many other questions/comments, submitted by critics of “consent-based siting,” were also ignored by DOE and its consortia awardees?  Will DOE ever publish a list of attendees, albeit after the fact? Will DOE address the many questions/comments from the meeting? If not, why not?!

This DOE scheme is a throw back to its infamous late 1980s/early 1990s “Nuclear Waste Negotiator” program. That program targeted Native American reservations for high-level radioactive waste dumps, a blatant case of environmental injustice, or radioactive racism. Although DOE’s Nuclear Waste Negotiator program was de-funded and ended by the early 1990s, the nuclear industry took the reins at Native American reservations already targeted, leading to bitter battles that went on for years (as at Mescalero Apache in New Mexico), or even decades (as at Skull Valley Goshutes in Utah).

Even though the latter was even licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, thankfully ground was never broken. However, NRC has never ended the license for construction and operation there, which remains on the books. However, during environmental review proceedings associated with so-called “private” CISFs targeted at the Permian Basin, NRC erroneously reported to the public that the Private Fuel Storage, LLC license at Skull Valley had been terminated. But this is not true. NRC refused to correct the record, even though numerous public commenters, including Beyond Nuclear, pointed out NRC’s error.

In Orwellian fashion, DOE now claims its “consent-based siting” scheme is an environmental justice initiative. But its targeting of Indigenous Nations reservations, and other low-income and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities for high-level radioactive waste dumps is the opposite of EJ.

Ironically enough, Holtec International has been selected by DOE as a team lead for one of the “consent-based siting” consortia. This, despite Holtec’s violation of the State of New Mexico’s and multiple Indigenous Nations’ consent. The State of New Mexico and Indigenous Nations there, such as two-dozen Pueblo Peoples, have clearly expressed their non-consent with Holtec’s proposed CISF in southeastern New Mexico, for many long years now. This includes the passage of a state law prohibiting Holtec’s CISF, unless and until the state grants its explicit consent. Holtec also would have provided the high-level radioactive waste containers for the PFS, LLC dump at Skull Valley Goshutes in Utah — even though traditionals and environmentalists in the Skull Valley Goshutes community, and many others across Utah — had clearly expressed their non-consent for years and decades on end.

Beyond Nuclear helped assemble a coalition of 140 groups, including Indigenous Environmental Network, that expressed strong opposition to DOE’s “consent-based siting” scheme from the get-go (see top two entries here).

List of Kevin Kamps’ questions/comments that went unaddressed by DOE and its consortia at the November 2, 2023 “open house”:

(1.) DOE calls this “consent-based siting.” And yet DOE awarded HOLTEC of all applicants an award to take part? How is this possible? Holtec has violated the consent of New Mexico, at least since Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration was elected. The Pueblo Council of Governors has also made its non-consent re: Holtec’s CISF in NM clear, for the past many years. So how was the decision made by DOE to award one of the top violators of consent-based siting in the entire country?

(2.) How can DOE continue to frame “consent-based siting” of federal CISFs as an EJ initiative? How could targeting Indigenous Nations’ reservations or lands ever be spun as EJ? Or targeting any People of Color and/or low-income community? It is Orwellian. Irradiated nuclear fuel is very high hazard, essentially forevermore. How can dumping one of the worst artificial industrial hazards ever generated by humankind, in such communities, be considered environmentally just?

(3.) How are such monetary grants to low-income communities and individuals not a form of “legalized” bribery? As Keith Lewis, environmental director of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, Canada, once said, “There is nothing moral about tempting a starving man with money.” He was speaking about the disastrous aftermath of uranium mining and milling in and near his Indigenous Nation. But the truth applies as much to irradiated nuclear fuel storage and disposal.

(4.) DOE’s answer just now re: Yucca Mountain was misleading. Both so-called “private” CISFs currently targeting Texas and New Mexico assume Yucca will be the permanent dump. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has licensed both CISFs, based on this false assumption. DOE did nothing to stop this. DOE and NRC are acting and speaking in contradictory ways, even though both belong to the same Biden administration. How is the public supposed to trust DOE’s words when such inherent contradictions are taking place?

(5.) Dr. Huff was recently quoted in the news media re: the goals of DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Most to all of which she described had to do with a dramatic expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. In that sense, NE is advocating for a dramatic increase in irradiated nuclear fuel generation. Drs. Macfarlane and Ewing (President Obama’s NRC Chair and USNWTRB Chair) have reported that Small Modular Reactors will generate from two to 30 times as much irradiated nuclear fuel, per unit of electricity generated, as current reactors make. So how are such NE goals not a form of self-destructive addiction? Isn’t DOE itself the partial breacher of the Standard Contracts with irradiated nuclear fuel title holders, that costs U.S. taxpayers $2.2 million per day in damages, with no end in sight? How can DOE even consider signing a new generation of Standard Contracts, when there is no solution in sight for irradiated nuclear fuel disposal?

(6.) I thought there were 13 consortia. Now you say 12. What happened to the 13th consortium?

(7.) How is DOE taking this initiative in the first place at all? Earlier in this meeting, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was invoked. Yet, the BRC recommended that DOE be removed from any decision making re: irradiated nuclear fuel disposition. So how is DOE not only involved, but leading this initiative?

(8.) Holtec said bringing pro-nuclear groups in like Generation Atomic would help balance things? But Holtec and Generation Atomic are both pro-nuclear. DOE NE is pro-nuclear. Many to most of the consortia team leads and junior partners are pro-nuclear. How is this entire effort balanced at all? How does it not advance the nuclear industry’s agenda of making irradiated nuclear fuel ad infinitum, ad nauseam? DOE’s entire scheme here is very imbalanced, rigged in favor of the nuclear industry.

(9.) Trust building? The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended DOE be removed from irradiated nuclear fuel disposition decision making, because DOE had so violated the public’s trust, for so long, that restoring trust was deemed impossible. Trust has been broken beyond repair by DOE’s past behavior. So why has this BRC finding and recommendation been ignored by DOE itself?

(10.) Would individual members of each of the consortia be willing to have consolidated interim storage facilities in their own personal family’s backyards, or front yards?

(11.) Holtec has been implicated in a bribery conviction. Holtec has been busted lying under oath. Holtec’s former Chief Financial Officer has filed a lawsuit against Holtec and its senior officers, including CEO Krishna Singh, seeking whistleblower protection as he exposes major financial fraud at the company. Krishna Singh made racist remarks about his own African American and Puerto Rican workforce in Camden, New Jersey, which led to protests at the factory’s front entrance by groups like NAACP. Does DOE often work with private companies that have such crooked, and even criminal, corporate cultures? How does any of this “build trust”?

(12.) Will DOE publish all the questions submitted at this “open house” today? If not, why not? Or is DOE sharing the questions submitted only with 12-13 consortia, in order to better get around any and all resistance to the opening of CISFs?

(13.) Why does DOE think that such orchestrated dog and pony shows as this — cheering itself on, letting only those who agree with it speak and be heard — will build public trust? By doing an end run around the public entirely?

(14.) Will the reprocessing facilities be co-located at the CISF? Then why aren’t potential hosts being told this clearly and explicitly? How is such obscurity not a violation of informed consent principles?

(15.) Will the list of those who attended this “open house” be published by DOE? Why were the attendees not transparently shown during/on the Microsoft Teams Meeting itself, in real time? Why is DOE being so secretive, and obscuring such basic information from public view?

Support Beyond Nuclear

Help to ensure a safer, greener and more just world for all