By Jeff McMahon

As the Department of Energy embarked Tuesday on its third quest to find a permanent disposal site for nuclear waste—this time with community consent—a Chicago audience gave the feds a fresh reminder of the difficulties ahead.

“My guess is that anyone on the panel, anyone in this room, I doubt that any of us would say, ‘Hey, bring it to my neighborhood,’” said Kathleen Ruse, an audience member at the DOE’s first public meeting on “consent-based siting,” held at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center.

“I’m really curious why any community would want to have a facility here if they really understand what’s being asked of them.”

John Kotek, DOE’s acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy, replied that such communities exist, like Carlsbad, New Mexico, already home to a deep geologic depository called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and Andrews, Texas, home to Waste Control Specialists. Twenty-two communities asked to be considered for a nuclear waste depository in Canada, he said, and both Sweden and Finland have found sites through a consent-based process…

…In the 1960s, federal officials looked for a salt mine to store nuclear waste and settled on one near Lyons, Kansas. The initiative was cancelled in 1972 because of state opposition and concerns about the suitability of the site.

In the 1970s, DOE began its second search for a permanent depository, culminating in the selection of Yucca Mountain, Nevada in the mid-1980s. Yucca Mountain was defunded in 2011, again amid local opposition and concerns about the site.

In 2012, DOE’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended a consent-based approach to avoid the local and state opposition that scuttled the prior two efforts.

“We want to find folks who actually want this, not folks who want to get out from under an edict,” said Robert Rosner, a nuclear physicist and former Argonne National Laboratory director who served as a host for the event, bridging the University of Chicago and the Department of Energy…

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