SAN JOSE, Calif. Can science and technology provide safe methods to handle the waste from nuclear power plants? That's the question a blue-ribbon panel convened by the Obama Administration Friday (Jan. 29) must answer within two years.
The panel is part of an Administration effort to re-start the U.S. nuclear power industry which has been on hold for decades after the accident at Three Mile Island plant and the debate over storing spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. President Obama said in his State of the Union speech this week that nuclear power will be part of his broad effort to drive a clean technology initiative in the U.S.
"I regard myself as an environmentalist, but I believe nuclear power has to play some role [in a renewable energy future] because it is carbon free, and I believe it can be a safe environmentally friendly alternative," said Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, announcing the panel in a conference call. "As a scientist, I believe these issues are solvable in a manner that can gain confidence for American people," he added.
The news came the same day the Department of Energy announced progress in research on fusion technology seen as a safer approach to nuclear power.
"Fusion would be wonderful, however practically speaking no one expects it to be commercialized in the first half of this century," said Chu. "These are research projects, but the nuclear technology we are trying to restart in the U.S. has been proven and we can make it safe and environmentally responsible," he said.
The 15-member DoE panel that will recommend safe practices for spent nuclear fuel includes a diverse range of technical experts and politicians. They include a former commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a former chancellor of UCLA, and professors of physics and environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley; George Mason University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"This isn't about picking another spot [to store nuclear waste]," said Chu.. "We will look at the full range of scientific options for dealing with the back end of nuclear fuel cycle," he said.
Can nuclear power technology be made safe? What is the latest technology for handling nuclear waste? We invite the engineering community to share your thoughts below.