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Public Statements

Yucca Mountain

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, it's great to get a chance to come back down to the floor to visit with my colleagues and talk about an issue that I've been raising seven or eight weeks in a row. I'll have a little more extended time to go over what has transpired over the past 6 to 7 months, and that's that this country really needs to address this high-level nuclear waste problem in this country.

I'm glad to be joined with some of my colleagues who I'll yield to in a couple of minutes.

But just to start in a synopsis, based upon the parts of the country that we visited, for us to move past the logjam that's in the other body, we have to find 60 Senators who will vote to move forward what we know is Federal law. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 recognized and determined that Yucca Mountain would be the national repository for high-level nuclear waste.

I think a lot of folks would say, well, so if it's a law, why aren't we there? Well, the reason we're not there now is because the majority leader of the Senate has blocked it, along with the President of the United States.

This time is being spent to help educate the American public, Mr. Speaker, on where is the high level nuclear waste, what communities, what States are affected, and what Senators should be held somewhat accountable for the positions they take as far as high-level nuclear waste?

On the chart to my far left, throughout this last half a year, we need 60 votes. We've got at least 27 Senators who we know already support this based upon votes or public statements. We have eight that really have not had a chance to address this by a vote or haven't made a public statement on it yet. And we have seven ``nays'' or seven ``no'' votes.

With that, just because I appreciate my colleagues taking time out, I would like to first yield to my colleague from the State of Illinois, no disrespect to my colleague from the State of Georgia, to go into a discussion about one of the areas that we addressed, one of the first sites we talked about. I figured I'd better come forward and talk about my own State. If I'm going to talk about other States, I better talk about my own State, the State of Illinois.

In the State of Illinois, 50 percent of our electricity is generated by nuclear power. We're one of the biggest nuclear power States in the country. We picked a facility that's actually closed, which is Zion Power Plant.

With that, I'd yield to my colleague, Mr. Dold, to kind of talk about Zion, the State of Illinois, and its location.


Mr. SHIMKUS. The city of Las Vegas, which is the major metropolitan area, is a hundred miles from Yucca Mountain.

What people have a hard time understanding about the nuclear test area, this is where the nuclear test site was. The Federal Government owns numerous parcels of land around Yucca Mountain. The communities right outside the reservation--and I think the whole test site area is like the size of New Hampshire--but the communities, what's interesting about this debate, the communities right outside the gate are fully supportive of Yucca Mountain being the repository for high-level nuclear waste. And why do I know that? Because I visited them. I've been in their communities. I went to the community center. They welcomed me, and we talked about how this was important for the country and their local communities.


Mr. SHIMKUS. My colleague is correct. We've already spent about $14.5 billion dollars in the research, the development, the exploration, the testing. A lot of money, time, effort, and some of our greatest minds have been involved.

I don't really think you have to be one of the greatest minds. The point I always say is, common sense says in the desert underneath a mountain. Isn't that where you would want high-level nuclear waste versus right off the shore of Lake Michigan?


Mr. SHIMKUS. Yes. I think I briefly tried to show this article from The Salt Lake Tribune, dated December 8, which talks about some of the reactor parts that are going to go out to Utah.

What the article ends up saying is:

The site will not, however, take the Illinois plant's used fuel rods. The United States currently has no site to dispose of spent fuel from commercial reactors, a form of high-level nuclear waste.

So if we don't have a location, where is that high-level nuclear waste, the spent fuel, going to remain?


Mr. SHIMKUS. The reason this is important is, unfortunately, due to Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, which is a great tragedy. A lot of people think about the containment issue, which has always been the fear. Part of the Fukushima Daiichi problem was the spent fuel in the pools, which might be a bigger environmental disaster based upon things that cannot be planned. That's why we continue to push this.

I appreciate my colleague for coming down.

Mr. DOLD. I thank the gentleman for allowing me to have some time with you today and, again, for talking about this very important issue.

Mr. SHIMKUS. Now I'm going to turn to my colleague from Georgia, who also serves with me on the Energy and Commerce Committee. We have jurisdiction over this. My subcommittee is the Environment and the Economy. I deal with a lot of these waste disposal issues, nuclear waste being one of those.

My colleague from Georgia has followed this issue as long as I have. The last time I came to the floor, I mentioned a couple facilities in Georgia, but the one that I have highlighted is the Savannah River. As I finish, I'll get this picture up to my colleague.

But the point we're trying to make today is that here you have Yucca Mountain, which is a mountain in a desert. Then you have nuclear waste all over this country. Look at this one. It's right next to the Savannah River. At Yucca Mountain, we have no nuclear waste on site. At the Savannah River, there are 6,300 canisters of waste on site. The waste would be stored, as my colleague BOB DOLD said, 1,000 feet underground; whereas, at the Savannah River, it's stored right below the ground. At Yucca Mountain, it's 1,000 feet above the water table. At the Savannah River, it would be zero to 160 feet above the water table. The waste at Yucca Mountain is 100 miles from the Colorado River. Well, you can see that it's adjacent to the Savannah River.

So I appreciate the gentleman from Georgia, Congressman Gingrey, for joining me; and I yield to him to enter into the colloquy.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Again, I appreciate your joining me today.

I want to quote from a Chicago Tribune editorial of March 19. I'll just read three short paragraphs:

``Here's why that is potentially a bigger problem than a meltdown: In the Japanese reactors, as in many U.S. reactors, the spent fuel is housed in large water-filled pools in the reactor building but outside the concrete-and-steel fortress that surrounds the reactor core.

``If the core melts down, any radiation released is likely to be partly bottled up by the containment vessel.

``Not so for the spent fuel pools, which often contain far more radioactive material than in the reactor. If the water that keeps those rods cool drains or boils away, the used fuel can catch fire. Result: A dangerous plume of extremely high radioactivity spewed into the air.

``Obvious question: Why do nuclear plants store spent fuel that way?

``Obvious answer in the U.S.: Yucca Mountain isn't open. In the 1980s, the Federal Government launched plans to ship nuclear waste to a storage lair carved into the mountain in Nevada and let it slowly and harmlessly decay.''

So there are benefits to nuclear power. If you're a climate change person and if you don't want carbon dioxide and if you still want a lot of electricity for us to use in all of our new technology, you'll have to have a generator. Yet, in this case, it's the used fuel. It is properly stored, but it would be better stored in a single repository underneath a mountain in the desert for all of those reasons.

You're talking about four reactors right now in Georgia; two more coming online, that's six; Illinois has 11. There are over 104 across this whole country and, of course, we spent our time talking about the used nuclear fuel from the industry.

But when I started this debate about what do we do with high-level nuclear waste, I started with a DOE facility that goes back to World War II and the development of the nuclear bomb and the Fat Man bomb, which was built at Hanford, Washington. And all that waste, going all the way back to World War II, is in Hanford. And there are 53 million gallons of nuclear waste on site, buried right off the surface of the ground in tanks that are 750,000 to a million gallons each. Only about 40 of them--there is over 100. Only about 40 of them are double-lined. That means the rest are not. Some are leaking.

Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SHIMKUS. I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. And the question of who is responsible in Hanford or Barnwell, South Carolina, or New Ellington to guard and protect, a tremendous burden on the States. But even if the Department of Homeland Security--maybe they do some oversight and protection of these sites. But 103 different sites across the country, how much simpler, how much safer, how much cheaper if they had one site to protect, that being 100 miles from Las Vegas at Yucca Mountain?

Mr. SHIMKUS. Continuing to speak on this issue of just looking at it, to kind of get away from just the nuclear generating profit sector, to address our responsibility as stewards of a program that was developed to stop World War II and then eventually remedy these environments that had an environmental impact.

Yucca Mountain, the waste storage plan for Hanford--and I've just toured it this year. The plan to gather up, deliquify, reprocess, put it in these canisters is designed to go to one location. Do you know what that location is? That location is Yucca Mountain.

So our failure to move forward, or our failure--actually, the other Chamber's failure, the leader of the Senate's failure, the President of the United States' failure, just tells Washington State what? Guess what. You've got this high-level nuclear waste that's leaking, that's close to the Columbia River, and just deal with it. Just deal with it.

I find that unacceptable after, as my colleague from Illinois said, $14.5 billion we've spent to prepare this site at Yucca Mountain only to have it stopped for political purposes.

Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. Well, if the gentleman will yield to me again, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this, because what year did we commission a group to study--and there were a number of potential sites for permanent storage from all these 103 facilities--one unified central site?

I'm relatively sure--the gentleman could correct me if I am wrong, but it was at least a 5-year process before it was settled in 1987 and Congress at that time designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site for permanent high-level nuclear waste repository after years of contentious applications.

So this is set in law, is it not?

Mr. SHIMKUS. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established Yucca Mountain as the national repository for high-level nuclear waste. And, again, for the educational purposes, Mr. Speaker, that is spent fuel. Sometimes it's spent nuclear waste from our Department of Defense, now controlled by the Department of Energy sites like Hanford.

Our argument is: Let's consolidate this waste safely, securely at one location so that, as my colleague from Georgia says, we can more safely, I think, effectively, I think, efficiently, I think, cost effectively manage, protect, and eventually try to remediate some of the damage that's been done over decades because of this high-level nuclear waste being located all over the country.

I yield to the gentleman.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Again, I thank my friend from Georgia for helping out on the Special Order and just addressing the issue of recycling. What do we do? Because those of us who follow the nuclear fuel cycle, most people want it closed. And how do you get it closed? You get it closed by getting as much energy out of the fuel rods as you can. You do that by reprocessing. But it would make sense that if there was someone who is going to attempt to do that, that the nuclear fuel would be close by.

There's probably some discussions about if we were going to have a reprocessing facility sometime in this country like France, where would you locate it? Where would it be situated? I mean, I am just a layman in this debate, but I think you would want it close by where the nuclear material is, the material that you want to use to reprocess, to create fuel.

I can't speak for the entire body. I do know that the House spoke on Yucca Mountain and bringing a finality to this--297 Members voted to ensure that we had the final dollars to do the final scientific study to move this process forward. And in that debate, it just showed that the will of the House was supportive and this is bipartisan. I mean, we don't have 297--or whatever the number is--Members who are just Republicans. We have 242. That means we brought a lot of our colleagues from the other side on this debate. Some of those really believe that the future is reprocessing and that we ought to be exploring that, and it's much better to have them located where you can recover that material.

If my colleague from Georgia wouldn't mind, we are joined by another colleague from Illinois. People wonder why we take up this cause. It's because we're a big nuclear State. It's about 50 percent of our electricity generation. I do a lot of coal. Coal is very important to me, but we are a nuclear power State which means we have a lot of sites, a lot of reactors, and we have a lot of nuclear waste.

So I yield to my colleague and thank him for coming down.


Mr. SHIMKUS. If my colleague would continue to discuss this for a few minutes, you mentioned a fund in your kind of opening statement. For the benefit of the Speaker, could you explain where this fund comes from and who is paying into it and what is it designed to do and what's going on with it right now.

Mr. KINZINGER of Illinois. Look, if you pay for any kind of nuclear power, ratepayers pay for this fund.

Mr. SHIMKUS. So you have constituents who have been paying into this fund?

Mr. KINZINGER of Illinois. Sure. And paying for a long time. Let me add, for every year we delay opening--Yucca Mountain is not going away; it doesn't disappear off the face of the Earth--for every year we delay, it's costing us half a billion dollars more than what it's ultimately going to cost.

So my constituents, your constituents, anybody who uses any aspect of nuclear power, which is almost everybody, has been paying for this. This isn't some giant expenditure we're going to have to make out of the general fund when we don't have any money. This is already being funded. It's already being paid for. It only makes sense. I think the colleagues that are joining me here today will say the same thing: this just makes sense.

Mr. SHIMKUS. And part of this debate about the nuclear waste and where it's stored and the nuclear waste fund has been litigated in Federal court, and the courts have said it is the responsibility of the national government to take this waste as part of the law, complying with the law. Obviously, we have no place to take it. So we end up having the utility store the high-level nuclear waste on site; and some of them, some have not asked us yet, some of them we are actually paying to hold the waste that we're supposed to be holding.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Reclaiming my time, I would kind of close this circle, Mr. Speaker, reminding folks that the chairman of the NRC, Mr. Jaczko, used to work for now-majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid. And it's the majority leader in the Senate that is blocking the funding for the final scientific analysis, and it is the chairman of the NRC who used to work for the majority leader who is complicit in this plan to shut down an investment of this country of $14.5 billion to comply with Federal law that we passed in 1982.

Now, in 1982 I was serving my country as an Army lieutenant in West Germany before the Wall came down. That's a long time ago. This has been the policy of this country for decades. And to have one man, one majority leader of the Senate, put a halt to that, that's why we're down here, because he has raised this to a political debate, not a scientific debate.

And because it's a political debate, what I'm attempting to do over a series of weeks is go around the country and just identify where is high-level nuclear waste stored, and would it be better for that waste to be stored underneath a mountain in a desert, the most investigated piece of property on the history of this Earth. There is no piece of property that has been more studied than Yucca Mountain anywhere on the face of this Earth.

So I know this is hard for some folks to see. We're doing a tally as we go around the country to look at, where are the votes? And we have 27 people, bipartisan, who have said this is where it should go from Washington State; of course, Illinois and Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Maine, Vermont, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We have new Senators who have not had an opportunity to publicly either make a statement on it or cast a vote. They're in the middle. We have 27 ``yes,'' 8 unknown. We're going to give them the benefit of the doubt. MERKLEY. FEINSTEIN was a ``no'' but Fukushima Daiichi and the two nuclear power plants that are on the Pacific Ocean in California and the high-level nuclear waste that's stored in ponds have her in a quandary based upon the representation of that State.

TESTER of Montana, unknown; LEE of Utah; BROWN of Massachusetts; AYOTTE of New Hampshire; SHAHEEN of New Hampshire; WICKER of Mississippi.

Bona fide ``noes'': REID of Nevada, HELLER of Nevada, CANTWELL of Washington, BOXER of California, BAUCUS of Montana, KERRY of Massachusetts, and SANDERS of Vermont.

So it's a chance to use the bully pulpit and my position as chairman of the subcommittee to help educate not only the floor, my colleagues, the Speaker, those who are following us, that there's got to be a better way to store high-level nuclear waste than in pools next to Lake Michigan, next to the Savannah River, next to the Pacific Ocean. Surely, there's a better place. And we know there is.

Thirty years of study and research--Federal law says Yucca Mountain in the desert underneath a mountain is probably as good a place as you're going to find, at least in the United States.


Mr. SHIMKUS. I appreciate, again, my colleague for coming down for this hour of discussion on really what should be the national policy on high-level nuclear waste in this country.

I didn't get a chance to go through all the areas but I'm going to end with Yucca Mountain versus the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station between L.A. and San Diego. This is one of the ones I'm talking about. How much nuclear waste is in the desert underneath the mountain? None. How much is on the Pacific Ocean right on the coastline? There's the photo. That's 2,300 waste rods on site. The waste would be stored a thousand feet underground at Yucca. The waste is stored above the ground in pools right on the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. The waste would be a thousand feet above the water table here. Of course, as you can see from the photo, the waste is right next to the Pacific Ocean. The waste at Yucca Mountain would be a hundred miles from the Colorado River. Again, you can see the waves breaking almost right up to the nuclear generating station between LA and San Diego.

I've gone to Massachusetts. I should have talked about Florida today. I've talked about Illinois. DOE locations like Washington State. There's a lot of nuclear waste defined differently all over this country. Let's do the correct public policy and get it at a single repository in the desert underneath a mountain.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your diligence, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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