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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 - Continued

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Location: Washington DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005-CONTINUED

Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I will clarify a couple of things that were said by the distinguished Senator from Washington that I am sure she believes are true but need to be elaborated upon. First, characterizing the consideration of going back to the old policy as something that happened in the middle of the night, something that happened in the dark, something that happened in a less than honest way is not at all accurate.

I suggest two things. First, I chaired the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety of the Environment and Public Works Committee in 1998 and 1999. During that time, of course, we had jurisdiction over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During that time, they had countless hearings. They had comment periods. They talked about this out in the open, with people given an opportunity to be heard. I happened to be chairing the committee that had oversight at the time. I remember that very well.

Second, I suggest this was discussed in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It certainly was not something that was done in any way that was less than totally honest and totally done in the daylight. By suggesting that Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Jack Reed and the other Members on this side of the issue did something that was not out in the open, I don't think is quite fair.

We had a hearing this morning with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is an oversight hearing we have had ever since 1998. That is when, in the NRC, I believe we saw a major change. They have done a good job. The NRC says we should manage waste based on the risk it poses, not how it is defined.

The Department of Energy was attempting to pursue this very policy when it was stopped in its tracks. What stopped it? Several of my colleagues already mentioned a lawsuit was brought against the DOE by the Natural Resources Defense Council. This is the allegedly charitable organization that uses a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars in the form of discretionary grants to achieve its goals.

Three weeks ago I spoke in the Senate about the spurious and misleading advertisement run by the NRDC. This organization places a higher priority on imposing ridiculously stringent environmental standards than on essential elements of national security. They have proven this many times in the past by filing lawsuits to limit the Navy readiness exercises and otherwise hampering our military. Now the NRDC has hamstrung the Department of Energy in the faithful execution of its responsibilities.

This amendment allows the DOE to pursue the best plan to dispose of this nuclear material. That plan saves our taxpayers money. It shortens the amount of time the waste remains in the tanks. It is a safe way to do it. It is a well-thought-out way of doing it and one that has been the subject of a lot of daylight. It is merely going back to a policy that has worked for a long period of time.

We know the background. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat it. During the cold war, the national security of the United States necessitated the building of nuclear weapons. Now, 50 years later, we are faced with the legacy of this effort and the need to clean up the sites where there is waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The creation of this waste was a necessary result of the chemical processes needed to make defense nuclear material. We all understand that.

Last summer, this very important cleanup effort, which is the single largest ongoing environmental risk reduction project for the Department of Energy, took a crushing blow when the district court issued a ruling that created significantly illegal uncertainties and enormous problems for the Department's tank waste cleanup at the Savannah River site, the West Valley, the Hanford site, and the Idaho National Engineer Environmental Laboratory. Unless these legal uncertainties are resolved, the only path the Department of Energy could in theory pursue that does have the necessary legal certainty would be to involve sending all the waste in tanks and the tanks themselves to Yucca Mountain no matter how long or short lived is the radioactivity they contain.

This dramatic change in course would increase the costs of the cleanup itself in terms of human lives sevenfold and also delay completion of simply emptying the tanks and treating the waste there by four decades, thereby further substantially increasing the risk, as the NRC pointed out, to the public health and safety during the time period by leaving the waste in tanks for that much longer. It would also increase the cost of simply emptying and treating the tank waste, according to the DOE estimates, by an additional $86 billion, only $1 billion less than last year's supplemental appropriation for the Iraq war, for approximately a total cost of $138 billion.

We are talking about something really big. The estimates for delay and the additional costs do not take into account the very complex logistics of transporting and disposing of all the additional waste at Yucca Mountain or the complex logistics of preparing for disposal, transporting, and disposing of the tanks themselves. Keep in mind, it is not just what is in the tanks. The tanks themselves would have to go there and be disposed of at the Yucca Mountain facility. These would also add additional decades and tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars to the cleanup cost.

Furthermore, under this scenario, the number of canisters of waste that would be transported to Yucca Mountain would increase from 20,000 canisters to approximately 200,000 canisters.

I know there are a lot of members in the Senate concerned about the transport of waste to Yucca Mountain. That would increase it tenfold. Some have asked, why not just authorize and appropriate $350 million needed for the cleanup activities in fiscal year 2005 and force the Department of Energy to continue its work? This is not a responsible path. If the Department of Energy constructs the facility necessary to prepare waste for disposal as low-level or transuranic waste and prepare the waste for disposal and then finds out after the fact that it lacked the legal authority to classify the waste in this manner, hundreds of millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money would already have been wasted and years of cleanup work lost. The Department may have actually made it harder to put the waste in the form needed to dispose of it at Yucca Mountain.

The fundamental root cause of the dilemma that faces our Nation today is the ambiguity presented by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act's definition of high-level waste and that, if left unclassified, is producing this technologically irrational result without environmental benefit that, in fact, increases health and safety risks.

It is up to this committee and this Congress to resolve ambiguity in order for the cleanup of the sites which played such a key role in the national security of our Nation. The language before the Senate clarifies the ambiguity, and I urge adoption of this language.

What had happened on this, back in the time it was considered in SAS Committee-the Senate Armed Services Committee-was that it was an amendment to actually go back and do it as it had been done before, to do it in the best way, as determined by the multitude of hearings that were conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and which were conducted during the time I chaired the oversight committee. So we were there. We knew it was taking place.

The thing that I guess bothers me the most-I see the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Senate floor. We acted very responsibly. This was not a partisan issue. This was a bipartisan issue. To infer in any way that things were done in the dark of night or in any way inappropriately is to say that I and several others-certainly the chairman of the committee; certainly Senator Joe Lieberman; certainly Senator Jack Reed, who supported this effort and supported the Senator from South Carolina-were acting inappropriately. I do not think that is realistic.

By the way, it has been said several times that there is some doubt as to what the NRC's position is on this issue. I will read the last paragraph of a letter that was sent to me, on May 18, as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This last paragraph says:

It is our understanding that some opponents of DOE's proposed plans believe that the tanks and the waste residuals should be disposed of as high-level waste in a geologic repository. While either approach could potentially be implemented within NRC regulatory requirements, we note that removal of the tanks, packaging of the tanks and residuals for transport and disposal, and disposal of the waste at a geologic repository, if feasible, would incur significant additional worker exposures-

That is human lives. We are exposing individuals.
and transportation exposures-
The transportation exposures we have talked about on this floor many, many times-
at very large financial costs.

You might conclude that, at this time, with all the terrorist threats around, these could become prime targets while being transported. Still quoting the letter:

Whereas, if DOE's proposed plans meet appropriate criteria, such as those used in NRC's previous reviews, then the NRC believes that public health and safety can be maintained while avoiding unnecessary additional exposures and risks associated with removal and transport of the waste and unnecessary additional expenditures of Federal funds.

I hope this letter satisfactorily addresses your questions.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the entire letter from the NRC to me dated May 18 be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION,
Washington, DC, May 18, 2004.
Hon. JAMES M. INHOFE,
Chairman, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: This letter responds to your request of May 18, 2004, for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) views on waste-incident-to-reprocessing (WIR). Specifically, you requested NRC's thoughts on: (1) the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) plan to grout in place the remaining residues left in the tanks at the Savannah River Site (SRS), the Hanford site, and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL); and (2) the risks to human health and the environment by following DOE's plan or the Natural Resources Defense Council' (NRDC's) plan. The concept underlying WIR is that wastes can be managed based on their risk to human health and the environment, rather than the origin of the wastes. For wastes that originate in reprocessing of nuclear fuel, such as the tank residuals at the DOE sites, some are highly radioactive and need to be treated and disposed of as high-level radioactive waste. Others do not pose the same risk to human health and the environment, and do not need to be disposed of as high-level waste in order to manage the risks that they pose.
At the outset, it must be understood that the NRC does not have regulatory authority or jurisdiction over SRS, Hanford, or INEEL. In the past, DOE has requested NRC review of some of its WIR determinations and supporting analysis. The NRC entered into reimbursable agreements to perform these reviews, which were provided as advice and did not constitute regulatory approval. NRC performed comprehensive and independent WIR reviews for Hanford in 1997, SRS in 2000, and INEEL in 2002 and 2003. These reviews involved both waste removed from tanks, and waste residuals remaining in the tanks for grouting and closure. NRC assessed whether DOE's determinations had sound technical assumptions, analysis, and conclusions with regard to specific WIR criteria. These criteria are: (1) the waste has been processed to remove key radionuclides to the maximum extent that is technically and economically practical, and (2) the waste is to be managed so that safety requirements comparable to the performance objectives in NRC's regulation 10 CFR Part 61 (Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste), Subpart C, are satisfied. In all cases, the NRC staff found that DOE's proposed methodology and conclusions met the appropriate WIR criteria and therefore met the performance objectives and dose limits that would apply to near-surface low-level waste disposal and would protect public health and safety. It should be noted that the Commission did not review all of DOE's actions with regard to WIR at those sites, and that the NRC conclusions applied only to those actions that the NRC reviewed. It should be noted that the Commission in its "Decommissioning Criteria for the West Valley Demonstration Project (M-32) at the West Valley Site; Final Policy Statement" (67 FR 5003, February 1, 2002), established WIR criteria for that site identical to those used in our reviews of the three DOE sites.
It is our understanding that some opponents of DOE's proposed plans believe that the tanks and the waste residuals should be disposed of as high-level waste in a geologic repository. While either approach could potentially be implemented within NRC regulatory requirements, we note that removal of the tanks, packaging of the tanks and residuals for transport and disposal, and disposal of the waste at a geologic repository, if feasible, would incur significant additional worker exposures and transportation exposures at very large financial costs. Whereas, if DOE's proposed plans meet appropriate criteria, such as those used in NRC's previous reviews, then the NRC believes that public health and safety can be maintained while avoiding unnecessary additional exposures and risks associated with removal and transport of the waste and unnecessary additional expenditures of Federal funds.
I hope this letter satisfactorily addresses your questions.
Sincerely,
NILS J. DIAZ.

Mr. INHOFE. We have a lot of commissions and a lot of organizations in the committee that I chair. We have some 17 Departments for which we have oversight and we deal with on a daily basis. When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was originally formed, it was to have the expertise and the knowledge as to what is going to assure the most safety for the public in the cheapest way you can get things done. They have done a good job. We have a lot of organizations such as this throughout Government. We have CASAC, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. We look to them because they have expertise. We look to the NRC because they have expertise.

I do not want to imply that any of the Members here would have necessarily less expertise than the NRC, but I suspect that is the case. So we rely on that expertise. Here we have the Department of Energy with all of its experts saying: This is the safe way to do it. This is the cheapest way to do it. And we have the NRC, which is charged with the responsibility of public safety, saying: This is the best way to do it.

So I believe, when the time comes, we need to look at this rationally and not try to make disparaging remarks about some of the members of the Armed Services Committee in our consideration of this amendment. Keep in mind, this was years in the making. Six years ago we started hearings on how to properly dispose of this, and the conclusions they came to were unanimous.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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