NIMBY and Maybe: Conflict and Cooperation in the Siting of Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facilities in the United States and Canada

Article excerpt

     Waste Disposal Capacity in the United States          73
     A. Early Stages in American LLRW Management           74
     B. LLRW Regulations                                   76

C. Siting Gridlock: Problems With The Regional

        Compacts                                           81
        1. The California Case                             82
        2. Background on the Ward Valley Site              83
        3. Political Fallout                               85
     D. Where the Supreme Court Standards on LLRW Siting   88
     E. Future LLRW Capacity Assurance                     89
III. The Canadian Approach: Signs of Cooperation           90
     A. Early Stages in Canadian LLRW Management           94
     B. Port Hope and Siting Conflict                      95
     C. The Task Force and the Social Process              98
     D. Revising the Classification System                100
     E. Exploring Alternative Disposal Methods            101
     F. Defining the Social Process                       103
     G. Implementing the Social Process                   104
     H. Possible Site Volunteers                          109
IV.  When Siting Works                                    112
     A. Extensive Public Participation                    114
     B. Burden Sharing and Freedom from Exploitation      115
     C. Public-Private Partnerships                       116
V.   Transferring the Process to the United States        118
VI.  Game Theory and Facility Siting                      121

I. INTRODUCTION

The domestic use of nuclear materials has traditionally been characterized as a collective good. Millions of Canadians and Americans enjoy relatively inexpensive energy from nuclear power plants. Thousands benefit from the post-world War II application of nuclear technology to medicine. From the formation of national regulatory entities in both nations through the 1970s, few people in either nation challenged the conventional wisdom that massive federal government subsidies for the development of nuclear power and medicine were anything other than a worthy endeavor which served broad, collective goals.

That consensus has unraveled in recent years, in part because of the issue of radioactive waste disposal. Episodes such as Three Mile Island drew attention to the safety of facilities generating nuclear power, but the issue of waste disposal poses a separate set of challenges for both nations. Whereas nuclear power and nuclear medicine are perceived as collective goods, Canadians and Americans recognize radioactive waste as a threat to public health, environmental protection, and the economic stability of any community which might become contaminated.

This paper examines one aspect of radioactive waste, so-called "low-level" waste, and one aspect of the waste management problem, siting facilities for waste storage and disposal. In both Canada and the United States, the evolution of nuclear technology has followed similar patterns and comparable technical and political waste disposal problems have emerged. Facility siting and management has been transformed from a fairly consensual area of environmental policy in the 1960s and 1970s to a conflict ridden area in more recent years. Time and again, when either Canadian or American communities are confronted with the possibility of "hosting" a new waste disposal or storage facility, the political reaction is immediate and intense. This reaction has blocked construction of any new facilities in either nation.

This manifestation of the Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) syndrome resembles the pattern exhibited with other types of waste disposal facilities, such as hazardous, solid, and biomedical wastes. This phenomenon offers some significant societal benefits, such as pressuring radioactive waste generators to explore alternative waste reduction or elimination methods. …