- The decommissioning of nuclear reactors that will be necessary in coming years will require a significant refocusing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to outgoing agency head Allison Macfarlane.
- The agency is unprepared for decommissioning, Dr. Macfarlane said, because up until 5 years ago it and the nuclear industry were preparing for an expansion that did not materialize. Industry growth was stopped by low cost natural gas, a slowing demand for electricity, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more distributed generation and energy efficiency, and the high cost of nuclear plants.
- The pace of reactor retirements is increasing but NRC oversight on issues like security and emergency planning is designed for operating plants, according to McFarlane, and there is still no solution to the management of nuclear waste.
McFarlane was appointed head of the NRC in 2011 to quell partisan in-fighting but, having succumbed to the partisanship, she is not considered likely to get Senate approval for a full five year term.
The proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada may have renewed political potential with Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) being forced out of the Majority Leader position by the recent Republican takeover. But McFarlane, a geologist, doubts Yucca Mountain is a viable solution for waste disposal.
She cited the more than 300 challenges to its application during 2010 Energy Department proceedings, each requiring a ruling by administrative law judges. Yucca Mountain would also not be big enough to contain the amount of accumulated waste, McFarlane said.
Decommissioning is a complex 8-step process that begins with developing procedures and ends with site surveys.