The US government is dealing with an intractable issue the serious of which is belied by the political wrangling over details, despite widespread consensus over the basic tenets of the solution. It isn’t the debt ceiling, its nuclear power.

A flurry of reports this week from the nuclear industry and its regulators brought the controversial energy source back into the news at the end of the week, despite the overshadowing drama of the US federal government’s inability to raise the federal debt ceiling ahead of an August 2, 2011 deadline.

The Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission released the attached draft report, and started it with an admission of failure.

“America’s nuclear waste management program is at an impasse,” the draft report begins. “The Obama Administration’s decision to halt work on a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is but the latest indicator of a policy that has been troubled for decades and has now all but completely broken down.”

The Commission has five legislative recommendations, all of them echoing the long-held approach of the industry to the issue of nuclear waste. The recommendations include establishing a new facility siting process, authorizing consolidated interim storage facilities, establishing a new waste management organization, ensuring access to dedicated funding and promoting international engagement to support safe and secure waste management.

A Good Crisis

The waste commission’s recommendations reflect decades of thought and many months of work, but its report has in many ways been overtaken by events, particularly the ongoing tragedy at the Fukushima nuclear plant’s failure following a tsunami in March.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission released the results of a 90-day safety review a day ahead of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s draft report, and its review underlined that while US nuclear power plants are meeting high safety standards, the industry faces an uphill battle in productively engaging with its stakeholders.

The findings of the NRC safety review were “reassuring,” former EPA Administrator and Governor Christie Todd Whitman said on behalf of nuclear energy group The Clean and Safe (CASEnergy) Coalition. She noted that the public comment aspect of the report was crucial.

“Broad public participation in this process is important,” she said.

For more on Whitman’s involvement in the nuclear industry, see: The Lady’s For Nuclear.

The nuclear industry learned to be strongly proactive on communicating its response to safety concerns after the accident and oil spill at BP’s Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico last year, Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Marv Fertel told Breaking Energy this week.

“If BP’s Horizon has not happened, we would have been nowhere near as effective,” Fertel said. The industry’s proactive outreach has been necessary, Fertel said, given the “overpowering” visuals from Fukushima and the fact that the reactors at the troubled plant were the same kind of technology that many US plants use.