Fear of Permanence: The Challenge of Siting Interim Facilities

by S. M. Nealey, Battelle Human Affairs Research Cent, Seattle, United States,
F. A. Morris, Battelle Human Affairs Research Cent, Seattle, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: High Level Radioactive Waste Management 1993


This paper examines an increasingly urgent and surprisingly difficult task: siting potentially hazardous facilities that are intended to operate for a limited period, such as a Monitored Retrievable Storage facility (MRS) for radioactive waste. Other examples are at-reactor radioactive waste storage facilities (e.g., dry cask storage) and interim storage facilities for plutonium recovered from retired nuclear weapons. Conventional wisdom holds that such facilities will be easier to site than facilities that are intended to be permanent, such as a radioactive waste repository. Yet the record to date has not provided much support for this expectation. Efforts to site an MRS are approaching the decade mark, despite several acts of Congress and the implementation of a variety of innovative institutional mechanisms designed to facilitate the siting process. And there is no end in sight! As the title of this paper suggests, we argue that a distinctive challenge to siting interim facilities is meeting the concern of interested publics that the facility may turn out not to be interim and instead achieve de facto permanence. Unless this concern is successfully addressed, siting an interim facility becomes just as difficult as siting a permanent facility because the concerned publics have to assume the worst (that the interim facility will be permanent) and act accordingly. Our analysis of this challenge is in four parts. First, we describe a generalized scenario that captures the logic of the dilemma. Second, we briefly recount four cases where the scenario is being played out (or has the potential to do so). Third, we explore several more specific siting issues through the lens of the interim facilities dilemma. Fourth, we draw conclusions and policy implications.

Subject Headings: Storage facilities | Waste storage | Radioactive wastes | Public buildings | Waste sites | Public opinion and participation | Waste disposal | Resilient modulus

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