U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), one of the strongest supporters of nuclear energy in the Senate, has introduced legislation, The Nuclear Waste Fund Relief and Rebate Act.
Electric utilities have been paying into the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund to construct and operate a permanent federal nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The utilities have been charging their costumers a monthly fee in each electricity bill to make these payments. According to the latest information, South Carolina residents alone have already contributed more than $1.3 billion to the fund, which has collected a total of more than $35 billion in fees.
The legislation introduced by Graham would rebate these monies back to electric utilities and consumers. Seventy-five percent of the amount rebated to utilities would be returned to their customers and the remaining portion will be used to make upgrades to on-site storage facilities.
Additionally, the legislation authorizes payments to states currently housing defense nuclear waste scheduled to be transferred to Yucca Mountain. These payments begin in 2017, the date in which Yucca Mountain was to set to receive shipments of defense nuclear waste.
"No one should be required to pay for an empty hole in the Nevada desert," said Graham. "The decision by the Obama Administration to close Yucca Mountain was ill-advised and leaves our nation without a disposal plan for spent nuclear fuel or Cold War waste. It was a political, not scientific, decision. It is incumbent on the Administration to come up with a disposal plan for this real problem facing our nation."
The major provisions of the Graham legislation include:
*Presidential Certification: The Department of Energy has spent billions of dollars and decades studying the suitability of Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for spent nuclear fuel and defense waste. Consistently, the science has borne out that Yucca Mountain is the best site to dispose of nuclear waste. Within 30 days of passage, the President must certify that Yucca Mountain remains the preferred choice to serve as the federal repository for spent nuclear fuel and defense-related nuclear waste.
*Failure to Certify Leads to Rebates: If the President fails to make the above certification, or revokes the certification at a later date, all funds currently in the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund shall be rebated back to the utilities. Seventy-five percent of the amount rebated to utilities would be returned to their customers and the remaining money will be used to make security and storage upgrades at existing nuclear power plants.
*Defense Waste: Currently, there is at least 12,800 metric tons of defense-related waste at nuclear weapons complex facilities around the country. Unlike commercial spent fuel, this waste has no potential future defense or civilian uses. In many states, the accumulated waste poses the largest potential public health threat. In order to help mitigate the risk associated with the indefinite storage of defense waste, the legislation authorizes payments of up to $100 million per year if defense waste has not begun to have left the states by 2017.
*Waste Confidence: In order to continue to renew or issue licenses for civilian nuclear power plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must have reasonable confidence that the waste will be disposed of safely. The legislation includes waste confidence language that allows for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue to license nuclear reactors in the event the Presidential certification is not made.
"Our nation needs real options as a result of the uncertainty created by the Obama Administration's change in policy," said Graham. "I will push this legislation forward and hope to have the full Senate on-the-record on this important issue."
Co-sponsors of the legislation include Senators Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), John McCain (R-Arizona), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin).