Next year's hot accessory in Ulan Bator


The Manichi Daily has published a series of stories about US efforts to site a spent fuel repository in Mongolia.

The short version is that sources — probably in Japan – leaked more details about discussions between the Department of Energy and the Mongolians, then the Japanese Government and the US Embassy in Japan both denied the story. (Japan would be involved in any Mongolian reactor construction.)  Then Reuters carried a denial by Mongolia and the Wall Street journal attributed the same US statement attributed to DOE.

I find this fascinating.  Certain people at the Department of Energy do believe Mongolia will agree to host a waste repository and are having relevant discussions.  But every time the press reports on the progress of those discussions, the Mongolians vociferously deny it all.

The Mongolian public position ought to tell you something about the ability of the government to successfully site a regional waste repository.

The US denial would be more interesting if a State Department official had not already confirmed the existence of discussions in March.  But he did.

It is unusual for US government officials to make false statements.  Maybe a convenient omission here, a slight distortion there, spin things around a bit.  But typically statements are true if read very, very literally. The DOE statement, however, is just not true.  It reads “No discussions or potential fuel leasing services involve U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel.”

I really hate to use the word “lie” to describe the DOE statement.  However, Dick Stratford confirmed at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference that US and Mongolian officials had held “discussions about whether or not Mongolia would harbor – or take a spent-fuel storage depot for third-country fuel.” Conveniently, I asked Stratford directly and on-the-record about US-origin spent nuclear fuel. He said “Yes, I would support allowing [South Korea and Taiwan] to transfer U.S.-obligated spent fuel.”

That’s the whole idea, people.

Once the furor over Fukushima dies down, DOE will be back at it again with the Mongolians and those discussions will involve the safe, efficient handling, characterization, and disposition of US-obligated (née US-origin) spent nuclear fuel and high level waste.

I should note that I would support DOE in its efforts to create a regional spent fuel repository in Mongolia, if it weren’t a pipe dream. But it ain’t gonna happen.  The Mongolians don’t want it. Look what happens everytime the US-Mongolia discussions are revealed in the press: Denials all around.  DOE isn’t going to be able create a waste repository in secret. Sooner or later, the Mongolians have to demonstrate that they are willing and able to surmount the formidable public oppositon to becoming the region’s nuclear waste dump.

Good luck with that.