Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hearing Sets Stage For Dealing With Nuclear Waste Next Year

Sep 12: The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), with Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) held a hearing to receive testimony on S.3469, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 introduced by Chairman Bingaman. Witnesses included: Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America's Nuclear Future, Washington, DC; Dr. Richard Meserve, president, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC; Dr. Peter Lyons, assistant secretary for nuclear energy, U.S. Department of Energy; Henry Barron, president and chief executive officer, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, LLC, Baltimore, MD; Geoffrey Fettus, senior attorney of the nuclear program, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, DC.
    In an opening statement, Chairman Bingaman who will be retiring this year said, "S.3469 is intended to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission that Secretary Chu appointed to review the nuclear waste program. The Blue Ribbon Commission issued its final report in January. This Committee heard from the two chairs of the Commission, General Brent Scowcroft and Representative Lee Hamilton, on that report in February. The Blue Ribbon Commission was worthy of its name. It was made up of 15 highly distinguished individuals from academia, from industry, and from public service. They approached their task conscientiously and diligently, and they produced a very thorough and comprehensive report. 

    "The Commission presented us with 8 clear, concise, and straightforward recommendations. I have tried to implement those recommendations in the bill that is now before us for this hearing. I worked closely with Senator Murkowski and the Chair and Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Feinstein and Senator Alexander, in the effort. Regrettably, we were not as successful as the Blue Ribbon Commission was in reaching a unanimous, bipartisan consensus. Although we were able to agree on most issues, we could not reach an agreement on the siting process for storage facilities and how to ensure that temporary storage facilities do not become permanent substitutes for an underground repository.  With time running out in this Congress, we agreed that I should go ahead and introduce the bill as it stands, and hold this hearing on the bill, and leave it to the next Congress to continue working on the issue.

    Senator Murkowski, in her opening statement said, "While I have been skeptical regarding the need to delay progress on resolving these issues while the Blue Ribbon Commission deliberated, the Blue Ribbon Commission itself is a credible group that has produced a thoughtful report regarding how to move our Nation's spent nuclear fuel program forward. Although there may be little that is truly new in their proposals, I am optimistic that the report has ignited a heightened sense of urgency and renewed focus on these issues. As the commission's report notes, the government's failure to address our nuclear waste issues is damaging to the development of future nuclear power and simultaneously worsening our nation's financial situation. We need to act, and we need to act soon.

    "Mr. Chairman, the legislation that you introduced is indicative of months of good, productive discussions between you, Senator Feinstein, Senator Alexander, and myself discussing ways to address the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. I congratulate you for moving the discussion forward and putting a marker out there toward reaching that goal. While we ultimately could not bridge the issue of linking progress on interim storage and a permanent repository, I want to be clear to those following these discussions that while prospects for legislative enactment this Congress are not favorable, we will continue the effort next year and build upon the progress that the Chairman has begun.

    "I will also note that the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill contains language that seeks to move interim storage forward in a timely manner. While a short-term continuing resolution appears likely to be agreed to in the next several days, I am hopeful that the interim storage language will be included when Congress acts on the full Fiscal Year 2013 spending bills. In addition, we would be remiss if we did not examine the impact of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia's remand of the NRC's Waste Confidence Decision on new license applications and license renewals and how legislation along the lines of S.3469 could help address the Court's concerns."

    The BRC Co-chair Scowcroft outlined the 8 recommendations of the Commission:

  • A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.
  • A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
  • Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.
  • Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities.
  • Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.
  • Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.
  • Support for advances in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development; and
  • Active U.S. leadership in international efforts to address safety, non-proliferation, and security concerns.
    In conclusion he said, ". . .as we said to this Committee in February, the national interest demands that our nuclear waste program be fixed. Complacency with a failed nuclear waste management system is not an option and the need for a new strategy is urgent. We believe the bill that Senator Bingaman has prepared represents a very useful starting point for an important discussion."
    Access the statement from Sen. Bingaman (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Murkowski (click here). Access the hearing website and link to all testimony and a webcast (click here). Access various WIMS articles on nuclear waste and the BLC (click here). Access legislative details for S.3469 (click here). [#Haz/Nuclear]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals