The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), held a hearing today to discuss the final recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. Members welcomed several of the commission's recommendations, which propose a series of reforms to help solve our nation's growing nuclear waste challenge.
Former Congressman Lee Hamilton and General Brent Scowcroft, co-chairmen of the commission, testified on the commission's findings over the past two years. Hamilton and Scowcroft warned of the dire situation facing nation's nuclear waste program and stressed the need for urgent action, explaining, "What we have found is that our nation's failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly. It will be even more damaging and more costly the longer it continues."
Efforts to dismantle the Yucca Mountain project, a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel that was in the works for over twenty years, have unfortunately been driven by politics and the powerful Senate Majority Leader rather than adhering to sound nuclear policy. To shield our nuclear waste program from further political sway, the commission recommended that the job of carrying out the nation's spent fuel and nuclear waste repository program be transferred from the Department of Energy to a new single-purpose, congressionally authorized entity.
The commission also stressed the need for a long-term disposal site. "The conclusion that disposal is needed and that deep geological disposal is the scientifically preferred approach has been reached by every expert panel that has looked at the issue," stated the co-chairmen. While political constraints prevented the commission from commenting on potential sites, thirty years of scientific study demonstrate Yucca Mountain is the most suitable choice for such a permanent repository.
"Yucca Mountain remains the most shovel-ready, thoroughly studied geological repository for spent nuclear fuel. There are possibly no other 230 square miles in the world that have been examined and reexamined more by America's greatest scientific minds than Yucca Mountain. Three decades of study, 15 billion dollars, and, quite frankly, common sense, support the current requirement to secure high-level nuclear waste on federal property, under a mountain, in a desert," said Shimkus.
The commission's proposal for a "consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities" was met with some opposition from members and witnesses who argued we must follow the law and build Yucca Mountain. Congress decided Yucca Mountain was the best available option for our nation's nuclear waste over 25 years ago. Committee members pointed out that decades of work and billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars were poured into the project, only to have it shuttered by the Obama administration. Given the urgency of our nation's nuclear crisis, we do not have the time or the money to start over.
Speaking on behalf of the ratepayers who have paid over $10 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, David Wright, President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, expressed frustration with the stalemate situation, saying, "It is now 20-plus years later and we still have the government's waste. Utility commissioners care because the utilities pass the cost of the fees to their consumers through their electric bill. Continuing to kick the dry case down the road should not be an option."
Thomas Shatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste, echoed this frustration. "The stockpile of spent nuclear fuel increases by about 2,000 metric tons each year, and according to the GAO, the volume of commercial spent nuclear fuel is projected to more than double by the year 2055," said Shatz. "The NWF fund balance stands at $26.7 billion as of September 30, 2011 and ratepayers continue to be forced to pay into the fund. But those expenditures only scratch the surface of the total costs associated with the development and subsequent rejection of Yucca Mountain, not to mention the cost of starting all over."
"Over the past three years, we have watched as the Obama Administration brazenly dismantled the Yucca Mountain program, with no legal, technical, or safety basis for doing so. These actions present serious questions about this Administration's respect for taxpayers, for nuclear power consumers who have paid in billions for this project, and for the public at large," stated Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). "We must keep our promise to the public to ensure safe disposal of the nation's nuclear waste, and not keep putting it off."