Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Administration Submits Yucca Mountain Development Legislation

Mar 6: Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel Bodman announced that the Administration is sending a legislative proposal to the U.S. Congress to "enhance the nation’s ability to manage and dispose of commercial spent nuclear fuel and Defense high-level radioactive waste at the highly controversial Yucca Mountain site. Currently 55,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel and Defense high-level waste is being stored at more than 100 above-ground sites in 39 states, and that number grows by about 2,000 metric tons annually.

Secretary Bodman said, “This legislative proposal reflects the Administration’s strong commitment to advancing the development of the Yucca Mountain repository, while seeking to provide stability, clarity and predictability in moving the project forward. Nuclear power is a clean, reliable domestic source of energy that currently represents approximately 20 percent of the nation’s energy supply. The Yucca Mountain repository is critical to the nation’s current and future energy and national security needs, and I look forward to working with the Congress on developing a bill that can be passed by Congress and signed by the President.”

The proposed legislation would facilitate the licensing and construction of the geologic repository and according to DOE, "lead to the safe, permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste deep within the mountain." Among the various provisions, the proposed legislation would withdraw, permanently from public use, the land at and surrounding the Yucca Mountain repository site in Nevada, and would facilitate Congress’s ability to provide adequate funding for the Yucca Mountain Project. Permanent withdrawal is needed to meet a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing requirement for the Yucca Mountain repository. Funding reform is necessary to correct a technical budgetary problem that has acted as a disincentive to adequate funding.

The proposed legislation would also eliminate the current statutory 70,000 metric ton cap on disposal capacity at Yucca Mountain, in order to "allow maximum use of the mountain’s true technical capacity." This provision would help provide the "safe isolation of the nation’s entire commercial spent nuclear fuel inventory from existing reactors, including life extensions." Also included are provisions for a more streamlined NRC licensing process, and for initiation of infrastructure activities, including safety and other upgrades and rail line construction, to enable earlier start-up of operations. Other provisions are designed to consolidate duplicative environmental reviews.

In the letter to Congressional leaders, Secretary Bodman says, "This legislative proposal is the same as that submitted by the Administration to Congress last year, with the exception of technical amendments to one section discussed in the enclosed bill summary. We are aware that some Members of Congress have expressed concerns about elements of this proposal and that some have proposed other approaches to addressing radioactive waste disposal issues. The Administration offers this legislative proposal again to continue the conversation and looks forward to working with Congress to develop a bill that can be passed by Congress and signed by the President."

Access a DOE release and link to a letter to Congressional leaders, the bill language, a bill summary, a legislative provisions summary, and sectional summary (click here). [*Haz/Nuclear]