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High-Level Nuclear Waste

Floor Speech

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Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, I come back on the floor as I have almost weekly throughout this entire Congress for 2 years to talk about the issue of high-level nuclear waste and what are we to do about it. And I really applaud my colleagues who joined me on June 6, 2012, on an amendment to a spending bill. It was a bipartisan vote; 326 Members of Congress supported finishing the scientific study on Yucca Mountain. That's the money that we had appropriated and that Senator Reid and President Obama did not spend for the scientific study. Then, in the last two cycles, Senator Reid has been blocking additional money for finishing the scientific study. So 226 Republicans and 98 Democrats joined me to really stress the point that we've got to finish this.

Yucca Mountain started in 1982 with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It was the defined location--it is the defined location--under current law under the amendments passed in 1987. To not fulfill and not to move forward is, in my estimation, breaking the law of the land. And who's complicit in this is our friends on the other side and the President of the United States.

Now, how does that affect the rest of the Nation and the Senators involved and Members involved? Well, we compare the current site of Yucca Mountain to where nuclear waste is located around this country. Yucca Mountain currently has no nuclear waste on-site. We've already spent $15 million over 20 years trying to finish this project. It would be stored a thousand feet underground, it would be a thousand feet above the water table, and it would be a hundred miles from the Colorado River.

Well, let's look at where we have nuclear waste, and nuclear waste is defined by a lot of different titles. Some is just spent fuels from nuclear utilities. A lot of our nuclear waste is defense waste: reprocessed, weaponized uranium or the chemicals needed to effect that.

So we have a Department of Energy location at Idaho National Labs. How much waste is in Idaho right now? We've got 5,090 canisters on-site. Waste is stored above the ground and in pools. Waste is 500 feet above the water table and waste is 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park, a major tourist destination for many of our citizens throughout this country.

This is a Senate issue, really, and not a House issue anymore since the House is on record, especially with this vote this year of 326 of our colleagues in support. Where are the Senators? The last time I came down to the floor, I talked about the State of Missouri and Senator McCaskill, who is undecided after being a U.S. Senator for 5 1/2 years. Well, now I turn to Montana, who's a neighbor to Idaho, and another undecided Senator, Senator JON TESTER. Can you imagine being a U.S. Senator for 5 1/2 years, having nuclear waste in the State next to you and never having a position on what do we do with the final position on nuclear waste, whether it's nuclear waste in spent fuel or whether it's nuclear waste in our defense industry?

A place like Hanford, Washington, where we have millions of gallons of toxic nuclear waste that's designed to go to Yucca Mountain, couldn't a U.S. Senator in 5 1/2 years say, I think yes, or I think no? Why is that important? You look at the total tally of what we've done over the past year and a half trying to identify where Senators stand. We have 55 Senators who support moving forward on Yucca Mountain. We have 22 question marks, one of them being Senator Tester from Montana. And then we have 23 identified ``no'' votes. Really, to close debate, based upon the Senate rules, you need 60. If we can move Senator McCaskill and Senator Tester, that brings us to 57 Senators and really a game-changing position to resolve this issue of high-level nuclear waste, which is pretty much throughout the country.

In my own State, my colleagues here on the floor in the State of Illinois, we are the largest nuclear-generating State in the country. We have six locations, 11 reactors. Some are right on Lake Michigan, Wisconsin; nuclear power plants right on Lake Michigan, Michigan; nuclear power plants right on Lake Michigan. Would you rather have high-level nuclear waste in the desert underneath a mountain or would you rather have it next to Lake Michigan or 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park? I think the answer is simple.

This has become politicized because of the Majority Leader of the Senate and his partner in crime, the President of the United States. It's time for us to move on good public policy: identify, centrally locate, and store high-level nuclear waste underneath a mountain in a desert.

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