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N.R.C. Nomination Shines Spotlight on Waste-Disposal Issue
from the New York Times (Registration Required)
WASHINGTON -- When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets on Wednesday to consider President Obama's choice to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, three themes are likely to dominate the questioning: waste, waste and earthquakes.
Collegiality and diplomacy may also be mentioned, given that the commission's current chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, has drawn criticism for his aggressive management style. The nuclear industry would, no doubt, prefer more uplifting confirmation hearing topics, like new reactor construction or progress on radical new designs that would make nuclear plants more useful or economical.
But for the first time, the president has chosen a geologist for the post, Allison M. Macfarlane of George Mason University, and her expertise aligns with the pressing concerns facing Congress and the nuclear industry. She is a longtime critic of the idea of burying waste at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic structure about 100 miles from Las Vegas chosen by Congress in the late 1980s, considering its geology too unpredictable. With little new plant construction, the commission's main responsibility these days is assuring the safety of the 104 plants now operating, and what to do with the decades-old problem of waste.
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Extreme events, such as super floods and hurricanes, are becoming more common, so civil engineers are trying to adapt civil infrastructure such as bridges to these unpredictable and sometimes devastating meteorological events. Engineer Ana Barros discusses how engineering can prepare us for extreme weather events, but also how changing climate and population conditions can affect the ability of infrastructure to hold up over time.
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