Policy Briefs

June 2013
Key Points

  • The federal government does not have a viable program for the management of the Department of Energy’s high-level radioactive waste and commercial used nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act should be amended to establish a comprehensive, sustainable used fuel management program.
  • The nuclear energy industry’s used fuel management priorities are: completion of the Yucca Mountain license review; development of a consolidated storage program; and creation of a new used fuel management entity outside of the Department of Energy with access to the Nuclear Waste Fund and its annual fees so the fund may be used for its intended purpose.
  • A geologic repository is a necessary feature of an integrated used fuel management program. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of the license application for the Yucca Mountain repository should be completed. Valuable lessons learned from the Yucca Mountain license review will inform the development of any future repositories.
  • A consolidated storage facility in a willing host community would enable the movement of used nuclear fuel from shutdown and operating plants long before a repository or recycling facilities begin operating.

Developing a Sustainable, Integrated Program
Since the Obama administration suspended the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain repository license application in 2010, the federal government has not had a viable used fuel management program. The administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, established to recommend a new direction for the program, published its final report in January 2012. Among its key recommendations:

  • act promptly to develop one or more consolidated interim storage facilities
  • assure access by the nuclear waste management program to the payments by consumers into Nuclear Waste Fund and the $28 billion balance of the fund
  • establish a new organization dedicated solely to implementing the program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.

Industry Principles
The nuclear energy industry supports completion of the Yucca Mountain project and also supports many of the commission’s recommendations. The industry supports legislation and is committed to legislative reform to create a sustainable, integrated program for federal management of high-level radioactive waste and commercial used nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Energy Institute Board of Directors voted to support six policy principles:

  • A new management and disposal organization dedicated solely to executing a high-level radioactive waste program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
  • Access to the annual collections and balance of the Nuclear Waste Fund for its intended purpose, without reliance on the annual appropriations process but with appropriate congressional oversight.
  • Completion of the Yucca Mountain repository license review. Nuclear electric consumers deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe site for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste, as billions of dollars and years of independent scientific research suggest.
  • A consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel and DOE’s high-level radioactive waste in a willing host community and state and substantial progress toward developing the Yucca Mountain site and/or a second geologic repository. A consolidated storage facility would enable the DOE or a new management entity to move used nuclear fuel from decommissioned and operating plants long before a repository or recycling facilities begin operations. Used fuel from decommissioned commercial reactor sites without an operating reactor should have priority when shipping commercial used fuel to the storage facility.
  • Research, development and demonstration of improved or advanced technologies to close the nuclear fuel cycle, thereby potentially reducing the volume, heat and toxicity of byproducts placed in the repository, which will be required for all fuel cycles. All funds for this program must come from DOE’s budget and not the Nuclear Waste Fund. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should develop a regulatory framework for licensing recycling facilities.
  • Supporting NRC’s promulgation of a temporary storage rule and an eventual legislative determination of waste confidence supported by a sustainable federal program founded on the elements above.

The nuclear energy industry, through NEI, is committed to working with Congress and the administration on proposed legislation that addresses the federal government’s high-level radioactive waste management responsibilities. The industry’s legislative principles address these elements and will guide the industry’s engagement in the legislative process.
New Management Structure
The industry recommends that the management and disposal organization be governed by a board of directors, with a chief executive officer hired by the board. This structure would best ensure the organization’s independence from recurring political influences from election cycles and presidential appointments.

Legislation must be enacted to give the management organization access to the full balance of the Nuclear Waste Fund, including interest earned and future fee payments. As of June 2013 the fund has a balance of more than $28 billion. Consumers who benefit from nuclear energy are paying more than $750 million in fees annually into the fund.

A legislative determination of waste confidence will address the environmental effects of used fuel storage at nuclear energy facilities between the end of the plants’ license terms and the time the used fuel is shipped off site. It should recognize that used fuel will continue to be managed and stored safely at plant sites without significant environmental impact until sufficient repository capacity is available. It also should provide reasonable assurance that safe used fuel disposal in a mined geologic repository is technically feasible and that one or more repositories will be available when needed. Such a determination will address the continued operation of existing nuclear energy facilities and ensure the continued licensing of new facilities.