The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held a hearing to examine the recommendations contained in the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) Report to the Secretary of Energy, as well as broader science and technology issues associated with spent nuclear fuel management. Republicans reiterated disappointment that the Administration explicitly instructed the BRC not to consider the suitability of Yucca Mountain as an option for nuclear storage.
"Just as real progress was being made to construct a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, President Obama decided to change course just as he did with the space program, without specifying any future path," said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). "When the Commission's draft report came out in July, I stated that it is time to stop playing politics and move forward with the Yucca Mountain project. I echo that sentiment today."
For over fifty years, a deep geological repository has been examined as an option for radioactive waste disposal. In their report the BRC notes "the conclusion that disposal is needed and that deep geologic disposal is the scientifically preferred approach has been reached by every expert panel that has looked at the issue and by every other country that is pursuing a nuclear waste management program."
Chairman Hall also reiterated his call for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to release the Safety Evaluation Report of Yucca Mountain and move ahead with licensing the facility. In response to questioning from the Chairman, BRC Co-Chairman General Brent Scowcroft noted that while the BRC was prohibited from evaluating Yucca Mountain specifically, it can be a part of a solution for nuclear waste management.
While permanent geologic storage is generally agreed upon by experts, where to locate such a repository has been a deeply disputed topic. Testifying today, General Scowcroft and BRC Commissioner Dr. Richard Meserve discussed the ongoing contention surrounding this issue. "Put simply, the overall record of the U.S. nuclear waste program has been one of broken promises and unmet commitments," they said in prepared testimony. "[T]o be sure, decades of failed efforts to develop a repository for spent fuel and high-level waste have produced frustration and a deep erosion of trust in the federal government."
In presenting its recommended strategy, the BRC noted all elements of its strategy are "necessary to establish a truly integrated national waste management system, to create institutional leadership and wherewithal to get the job done, and to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of technology developments and international responses to evolving nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security concerns."
Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy, Dr. Pete Lyons, stressed how important the issue of spent nuclear fuel storage will continue to be moving forward. "The United States must develop a sustainable fuel cycle and used fuel management strategy to ensure that nuclear power continues to be a safe, reliable resource for our nation's long-term energy supply and security."
Members on both sides of the aisle questioned the witnesses on a wide-ranging number of issues, including nuclear technology research at DOE, how to gain community approval for a spent fuel repository, and the status of recycling and reprocessing initiatives.
The following witnesses testified today:
Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft (Ret.), Co-Chairman, Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future
The Honorable Richard Meserve, Commissioner, Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future
The Honorable Pete Lyons, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy, Department of Energy