Friday, January 27, 2012

House & Senate Prepare To Hear Nuclear Waste Issues

Jan 26: Following the release of the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) which details comprehensive recommendations for creating a safe, longterm solution for managing and disposing of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and highlevel radioactive waste [See WIMS 1/26/12], House and Senate Committees announced plans to hold hearings on the recommendations.
    The United States currently has more than 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at about 75 operating and shutdown reactor sites around the country. More than 2,000 tons are being produced each year. The DOE also is storing an additional 2,500 tons of spent fuel and large volumes of highlevel nuclear waste, mostly from past weapons programs, at a handful of governmentowned sites.
    Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) welcomed the final report. They said they were "disappointed that President Obama prohibited the commission from reviewing the merits of Yucca Mountain." They indicated that they agree with several of the commission's recommendations and believe the report's findings only underscore the urgent need to move forward with development of the Yucca program. The Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, February 1, 2012, at 9:30 AM.
    The two issued a joint statement saying, "In the wake of the Obama administration's mismanagement of Yucca Mountain, we agree with the commission that a new organizational structure must be put into place to manage our country's nuclear waste. The current administration has proved unwilling to carry out the law; it's time to think about a new single-purpose entity to put our country's nuclear future back on track. As recommended in the report, it is crucial this authority have full access to the Nuclear Waste Fund. Recent House efforts to fund Yucca Mountain have been repeatedly thwarted by Harry Reid's Democratic Senate and the White House. We must decouple these funds from political whims imposed by the budget cycle to ensure the billions of dollars taxpayers and ratepayers have poured into Yucca Mountain will not be squandered.
    "The commission underscored the need for prompt action on a long-term storage disposal facility, and we believe Yucca Mountain remains the most shovel-ready, thoroughly studied option. While we develop this repository, we agree that we must also prepare for the large-scale transport of nuclear waste. As our nation's nuclear waste increases, so does the need for a long-term nuclear waste solution. We will continue to examine the commission's findings as we work to ensure the safety of our nuclear future."
   The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), issued a statement saying, "I welcome the release of the report and look forward to its thoughtful review by the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Nuclear energy will continue to be an integral piece of America's energy portfolio, and identifying a workable path forward to manage nuclear waste, including new technology pathways, deserves consideration. I thank the Blue Ribbon Commission panel for its hard work, particularly the leadership of its Co-Chairmen, General Scowcroft and former Congressman Hamilton. 

    "President Obama threw the future of U.S. nuclear waste management into disarray when he unilaterally decided to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository. While by law Yucca Mountain continues to be the only designated permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste, sensible steps to make it easier for future generations to manage nuclear waste warrant examination. The BRC's Report is a productive contribution to that ongoing discussion. "In the meantime, American taxpayers deserve to see the results of their $15 billion investment in Yucca Mountain, including the results of the comprehensive scientific review, which have yet to be released.  At a time when the country desperately needs a comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy strategy – including expanded use of nuclear energy – the lack of a permanent storage solution continues to burden existing nuclear plants and increase liability to the American taxpayer. I look forward to an informative hearing in the coming weeks to review the Commission's report."

    Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) announced the Committee will hold a hearing on the Commission's report on Thursday, February 2, with witnesses including Co-chairs Lee Hamilton and Lt. General Brent Scowcraft, USAF. Ranking Member Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), released a statement saying, "I've been working with Sens. Feinstein, Alexander and Bingaman to find a plan to deal with our nation's spent nuclear fuel. We have a lot of issues to address -- not just the need for a long-term repository, but also transportation safety issues, the federal government's contractual liability and the need to consolidate and prioritize the existing temporary storage facilities -- and I'll be looking to the commission for guidance as we consider possible legislative action.
    "While the commission's report doesn't break a lot of new ground, it does offer some solid recommendations for improving U.S. policy, especially the call for the creation of a new organization that's protected from political influence or annual funding bills to handle nuclear waste disposal. I think that's an idea that's overdue, which is why I cosponsored Sen. Voinovich's Fed-Corp proposal.
    In its report, the BRC indicated, ". . .the Obama Administration's decision to halt work on a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the latest indicator of a nuclear waste management policy that has been troubled for decades and has now reached an impasse. Allowing that impasse to continue is not an option. . .The Commission noted that it was specifically not tasked with rendering any opinion on the suitability of Yucca Mountain, proposing any specific site for a waste management facility, or offering any opinion on the role of nuclear power in the nation's energy supply mix. . . the urgent need to change and improve our strategy for managing the highlevel wastes and spent fuel that already exist and will continue to accumulate so long as nuclear reactors operate in this country."
    The Commission said what it has endeavored to do is "recommend a sound waste management approach that can lead to the resolution of the current impasse, and can and should be applied regardless of what site or sites are ultimately chosen to serve as the permanent disposal facility for America's spent nuclear fuel and other highlevel nuclear wastes."
    Access a release from Reps. Upton and Shimkus (click here). Access a release from Rep. Hall (click here). Access a release from Sen. Murkowski (click here). Access a release from BRC (click here). Access the complete 180-page report (click here). Access the BRC website for complete background information (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear, #Haz/Nuclear]