Stanford University

Geological Sciences Seminar: Rodney Ewing, Stanford University

Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022 12:15 PM
More Info:


Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni/Friends
Department of Geological Science

The Gordian Knot of U.S. Nuclear Waste Management and Disposal - Policy Recommendations for A Way Forward

The U.S. nuclear waste management and disposal program has been stymied on multiple fronts: from the disposal of high-level and transuranic wastes from defense programs to the spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants, as well as the disposition of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. In 2002, Congress approved President George W. Bush’s decision that Yucca Mountain in Nevada be selected as the nation’s geologic repository for high-activity radioactive wastes.  In 2008, the Department of Energy applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct that facility.  Two years later, the administration concluded that developing a repository at Yucca Mountain was “unworkable.” A stalemate has prevailed between those who maintain that the Yucca Mountain project was “unworkable“ and those who believe that the choice of the site is the “law.“ During the most recent presidential election, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates did not support the proposed geologic repository at Yucca Mountain. The Biden administration is now moving forward to identify a consolidated interim storage site for commercially generated spent fuel using a consent-based process. The prospects for a geological repository remain dim.

Over several years, Stanford University and George Washington University sponsored a series of five meetings to identify the critical issues that must be addressed in order to move the U.S. program forward.  A final report, Reset of America’s Nuclear Waste Management Strategy and Policy, was released in 2018. The report identifies systemic issues that have challenged the U.S. program and make a series of recommendations: 

•    New nuclear waste management organization and new funding process
•    A consent-based sitting process 
•    Integration of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle
•    Revision of regulations and a new approach to the assessment of safety

Rod Ewing is the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security and Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University. Rod has written extensively on issues related to nuclear waste and is a co-editor of Radioactive Waste Forms for the Future (1988) and Uncertainty Underground – Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste (2006).  He received the Lomonosov Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2006 and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Rod is a Founding Editor of the magazine, Elements and presently serves on the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In 2012, he was appointed by President Obama to chair the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, which provides scientific and technical reviews of the U.S. Department of Energy’s programs for the management and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. He stepped down in 2017.

Email Rey Garduño,, for Zoom link and password.

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