Congress Hears Testimony on Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013

Breaking the used nuclear fuel logjam?

By Paul Bowersox

On Tuesday, July 30, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing to consider Senate Bill 1240—the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013. Following suit, the House of Representatives on Wednesday hosted U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at an oversight hearing of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Senate bill is a bipartisan effort led by committee chair Ron Wyden (D., Oregon), committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), and top Senate energy appropriators Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R, Tenn.). The bill attempts to chart a new course for U.S. used nuclear fuel storage by, largely, implementing the recommendations of President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The legislation would establish a new, independent agency for managing the used fuel, establish consent-based interim storage facilities, allow states and localities to apply for permanently storing used fuel, and make numerous other changes to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy Act (see Jim Hopf’s summation of key points of the Blue Ribbon Commission here).

View the hearing at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources website (fast-forward to 18:20 to begin). View the hearing at the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy website.

But what about Yucca Mountain?

The American Nuclear Society supports the formation of a new, independent agency to manage the nation’s used fuel, as well as establishing centralized, interim used fuel transportation and storage facilities, and continued research and development on advanced nuclear fuel cycles, including fuel recycling.

The Yucca Mountain repository, however, remains a point of contention, even two years after licensing studies at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were halted by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). The position of ANS remains that the NRC should conclude this licensing process for the repository.

The position of most House Republicans, similarly, is that the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada is the nation’s sole permanent repository—as was made into law in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982—at least, if NRC reviews were to be completed. The “problem” of nuclear waste storage is already solved, in this view—only political roadblocks, not technical nor environmental issues, keep used nuclear fuel onsite at U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

The Senate Bill 1240 halts transfers of “non-priority” nuclear waste after 10 years unless Congress provides funding for a permanent repository program, and no new interim sites are allowed after 10 years unless a permanent storage site has been selected.

Pursuing these parallel tracks for intermediate and permanent storage might prove acceptable in an eventual vote in both houses of Congress, in some months. Yucca Mountain is not mentioned in Senate Bill 1240, except as background—but it is also not expressly precluded as a possible eventual site for a permanent geologic repository.

Hot off the press:

House Republicans to Energy Secretary:  Don’t Scrap Yucca by Alex Brown at National Journal

Nuclear Energy Institute’s Fertel Tells Congress to Act Now on Used Nuclear Fuel Legislation

We’re Paying Twice to Manage Nation’s Nuclear Waste by William H. Miller in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Economic Conditions Primary Challenge For Nuclear, Not The Unsolved Waste Puzzle by John Johnson at Nuclear Energy Insider

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bowersoxPaul Bowersox manages social media at the American Nuclear Society

 

 

 

3 Responses to Congress Hears Testimony on Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013

  1. James Greenidge

    It’d be nice if some bold Congressperson could invite the independent likes of Rod Adams or Will Davis or Meredith Angwin to testify at these hearings to give the pols a straight grass-roots level tech-in on these issues to institute some real public education by. Homer Simpson does more damage in one airing to the public’s view of nuclear energy and waste than the results of all these hearings put together for decades.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. Why do people think a new agency is going to make any more progress than the agencies we already have (e.g., DOE, NNSA, NRC, EPA). It sounds like there will be another layer of bureaucracy on an already bogged-down decision-making process.

    We need leadership that will move us forward with reprocessing, LFTR, breeders, etc., and not more politicians in the mix.

    Tom Hubbard
    Richmond, VA

  3. Tom Clements

    Though Congress hasn’t acted on new legislation on nuclear waste, it’s worth noting that South Carolina is already defining the term “non-consent” on the ground in a groundswell of public opposition against bringing commercial spent fuel to the state. After months of deliberation and public interaction, the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board (SRS CAB), the federal advisory committee that advises DOE on clean-up issues at the Savannah River Site, voted on July 23 against bringing spent fuel to SRS for consolidated interim storage. The lopsided 17-6 vote is significant and was preceded by community meetings in Aiken, SC where concern was expressed about receiving more highly radioactive waste at SRS with no exit strategy and on top of the massive amount of waste already at the site, which DOE is struggling to deal with. While Congress has been slow to act one can look at South Carolina to see how to public is already establishing community “non-consent” to spent fuel storage. See the CAB’s “Position Paper for the Savannah River Site’s Citizens Advisory Board on Using SRS for interim Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel (Adopted July 2013)” at http://www.srs.gov/general/outreach/srs-cab/library/positions/interimstorage.pdf