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).
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
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