Comment: As Nevada and other western, midwestern, southern, and eastern states have historically insisted, the delegation of responsibility for making mode and route choices to carriers is unacceptable. This is clearly a DOE responsibility and one that DOE must accept if there is to be any effective planning and coordination of Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) shipments of spent nuclear fuel (SNF). Leaving the mode and route decisions to carriers invites confusion, conflict, and increased public distrust in the entire program. It would make it extremely difficult for States, tribes, and communities along potential transportation routes to plan for emergency response and readiness since DOE is proposing as many as four different contractors to be responsible for different geological regions of the country. That means that states and tribes would have to work with multiple contractors on the route identification process. Such a process would be unwieldy and likely not result in the establishment of route preferences in time to implement adequate emergency response and preparedness capabilities.
Until publication of this Federal Register Notice, DOE had made commitments to the states that it would engage in a route selection process and take responsibility for shipment modes and route decisions. This Notice is a major step backward and threatens to undermine the good work that DOE staff has done over the past two years in establishing communication with potential corridor states and tribes. Viewed in combination with the devastating reductions in DOE assistance for cooperative agreement groups of states, such as the Western Interstate Energy Board and other regional groups, the Notice signals a disturbing retrenchment in DOE's willingness to work with states and tribes in resolving difficult issues like route and mode selection.
Comment: The Notice appears to compartmentalize the transportation of SNF from the preparation that is required to assure safe and uneventful shipment of these materials in unprecedented numbers and for an unprecedented shipping campaign duration. There is no provision, for example, to coordinate activities contemplated under the Notice with the activities requires under Section 180 (c) of the NWPA (emergency response training and preparedness). As noted above, the approach embodied in the Notice may make it difficult or impossible to provide Section 180 (c) assistance to affected states and in the time frames necessary for effective training and preparation.
The Notice also sets up a "system" of waste management that is uncoordinated and likely to involve multiple types of transportation and storage containers, further complicating operations throughout the system. Such a process rewards fragmentation and prohibits standardization of storage and transport components that could bring significant efficiency to the entire program. One of the attractive features of DOE's now defunct MPC initiative was that it contributed a certain stability to the transportation planning process by reducing some of the uncertainties about shipping container characteristics and performance. The system reflected in the current Notice eliminates any incentives for coordination and standardization and will likely result in costs being the deciding factor in the selection of transport and storage technologies.
Comment: The Notice represents an major - and potentially damaging - departure from over 15 years of incremental progress DOE has made in working with states and tribes in planning for the safe transportation of spent nuclear fuel. The transportation of SNF and other high-level radioactive waste to a repository will affect hundreds of cities and thousands of communities in 43 states for a period that spans decades. For DOE to simply discard a centralized and participatory planning process for one that relies solely on arbitrary contractual decision-making is inappropriate and unacceptable. This type of major program policy change requires DOE to not only respond specifically to comments received, but also to engage in a process of assessing the proposed new direction in light of past planning and commitments with affected parties. This should be done through dialogue and interaction with affected states and regional groups, such as the Western Interstate Energy Board.