A bipartisan group of four senior U.S. senators today released a discussion draft of comprehensive nuclear waste management legislation aimed at reenergizing efforts to reach a long-term solution for highly radioactive nuclear waste.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)--leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development--and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) collaborated on the proposal, which builds on work by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.
The members are seeking comment on the discussion draft and a number of policy and technical questions from experts and stakeholders, including utilities, conservation groups, Blue Ribbon Commission members and others, by May 24.
"This bipartisan discussion draft implements recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission and is the product of many months of discussion between myself and Senators Wyden, Alexander, Murkoswki and Bingaman. It establishes a desperately needed nuclear waste policy, employing a consent-based approach that will expedite waste removal from at-risk locations and decommissioned plants. Taxpayers have already shouldered $2.6 billion in payments for the federal government's failure to accept spent nuclear fuel. That liability will grow to $20 billion by 2020 and then increase $400 million every year. The time is now to find a solution that safely stores this material while protecting taxpayers, and that is why we are releasing this discussion draft for comment and feedback," Feinstein said.
"Nuclear power is our greatest source of low-cost, clean, reliable electricity, and to power our 21st-Century economy, we need to solve the problem of where to put the used nuclear fuel. This bill would solve the problem by making local, state, and federal governments equal partners in the process, putting an end to what's become a decades-long stalemate," Alexander said.
"Our country can't wait any longer to find a long-term solution for disposing of nuclear waste. I am encouraged that Senators Feinstein, Alexander, Murkowski and I have been able to have such thoughtful and productive discussions about finding a way forward. I'm hopeful the feedback we receive will help us finish the job and allow us to move forward with legislation that puts the U.S. back on the path to safely managing and permanently disposing of the most radioactive wastes," Wyden said.
"The government's failure to address our nuclear waste issues is damaging to the development of future nuclear power and simultaneously worsening our nation's financial situation. We need to act, and we need to act soon. While I continue to support Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository site, I also recognize the current realities that make that outcome unlikely at this time. It is my hope that this discussion draft will help us quickly resolve the outstanding issues surrounding the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including whether progress on interim storage should be linked with the siting of a permanent repository," Murkowski said.
Currently there is no central repository for spent nuclear fuel, leaving fuel rods to be stored on-site at dozens of commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including areas that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. Millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste from the nation's nuclear weapons programs are also being stored at Department of Energy sites around the country. Although DOE has begun to process some of these wastes into more stable forms, DOE recently disclosed that high-level waste storage tanks at Hanford Nuclear Reservation are deteriorating and wastes are continuing to leak from the tanks.
The bill includes establishment of a new nuclear waste administration and creates a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities. It also enables the federal government to address its commitment to managing commercial nuclear waste, limiting the costly liability the government bears for its failure to dispose of commercial spent fuel. The integrated storage and repository system established by this legislation will expand opportunities for nuclear power to supply carbon-free energy, and will provide long-term protection of public health and safety for both commercial and defense high-level waste.