Friday, September 15, 2006

Hearings On Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

Sep 14: The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety, Chaired by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH)held an Oversight Hearing on NRC’s Regulatory Responsibilities and Capabilities for Long -and Short- term Spent Fuel Storage Programs. Those testifying at the hearing included: Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); Shane Johnson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Nuclear Energy, DOE; Executive Director of Operations, U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; President and CEO, Nuclear Energy Institute; and an Independent Energy Consultant.

Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) delivered and opening statement indicating, "Vermont, along with 39 other states, relies on nuclear power for a large portion of its electricity generation. It is an important part of our energy mix. Nonetheless, we must be realistic in dealing with the downsides associated with nuclear power. One of those downsides is finding a way to manage the waste. Throughout my time in Congress, I have continued to work for a comprehensive solution to our nuclear waste problem... I have consistently supported a central storage solution for nuclear waste. I continue to believe that it is essential that we find a permanent, geologic storage site if we are to continue to produce nuclear power... However, I have also made clear my view that Yucca Mountain will not provide this solution, and the project faces many challenges. I have been very concerned that the Yucca site will only take part of the waste, leaving some, if not most of the spent nuclear fuel sitting along the banks of rivers, beside our small communities and our large population centers... Both the Governor of Vermont and the Attorney General of my state have contacted me in opposition to recent proposals for new interim storage..."

Currently more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is located at more than 100 above-ground sites in 39 states, and every year reactors in the United States produce an additional approximately 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel. The permanent, geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain currently has a "best-achievable schedule"opening date of 2017. DOE testified that that date is predicated upon enactment of the pending legislation -- S. 2589, the "Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act," introduced by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) and Senator Domenici (R-NM). DOE said the bill would significantly enhance the Nation’s ability to manage and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The Agency said, "This proposed legislation addresses many of the uncertainties, currently beyond the control of the Department, that have the potential to significantly delay the opening date for the repository." Among five other major provisions in the bill, it would eliminate the current statutory 70,000 metric ton cap on disposal capacity at Yucca Mountain which DOE said would "allow for maximum use of the mountain’s true technical capacity."

The Nuclear Energy Institute testified, that the industry "strongly supports S. 2610," a bill to enhance the management and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, "since it includes those provisions of the comprehensive legislative proposal submitted by the administration that relate to issues within this committee’s jurisdiction. These provisions should be enacted along with many of the additional provisions in S. 2589... Industry representatives previously have testified in detail on the provisions of S. 2589, including land withdrawal, changes in the regulatory process and the budget treatment of the Nuclear Waste Fund. We also identified the need to address contract provisions related to used fuel for new nuclear plants."
A similar hearing was held before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Chaired by Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), on September 13. DOE submitted similar testimony in support of H.R. 5360, a companion bill to S. 2589, and introduced by Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX). According to a release from Representative Barton, members of the Subcommittee "were unenthusiastic about funding numerous nuclear waste interim storage sites, instead focusing their attention on legislative fixes to move forward on Yucca Mountain."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony (click here). Access legislative details for S. 2589 (click here). Access legislative details for S. 2610 (click here). Access the House hearing website for links to all testimony (click here). Access a release from Representative Barton (click here). Access a release from Representative John Dingell (D-MI) (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 5360 (click here). [*Haz/Nuclear]