WASHINGTON—The Clinton Administration must demonstrate a strong commitment to work with Congress to manage used nuclear fuel, a utility executive told a congressional panel today.
David Joos, president and chief executive officer of Michigan-based Consumers Energy, called on Congress to pass comprehensive reform legislation providing the Energy Department with a clear timetable for meeting its legal obligation to store used fuel from nuclear power plants and defense programs.
Joos told Congress that despite "the President's clearly stated commitment that Energy Secretary Bill Richardson would actively engage Congress in a dialogue on nuclear waste disposal issues, there has been no real commitment from the White House or the Energy Department" to meet the government's 1998 legal obligation to begin managing used nuclear fuel.
"The Energy Department has deflected and attempted to deny its legal responsibilities and has missed its deadline for accepting used fuel from nuclear power plants and defense facilities at 78 locations in 35 states," Joos told the House Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. "This is irresponsible conduct unfitting of the federal government." In 1982, Congress directed the government to begin storing used nuclear fuel at a single federal facility by Jan. 31, 1998.
"The Energy Department has excused its delays as the inevitable price of bureaucracy," Joos explained. "Every year, we are confronted with a new delay that pushes nuclear fuel disposal further into the future—even though the science indicates promise for fuel storage today." In December, Secretary Richardson released a compilation of scientific research that he said "reveals that no show-stoppers have been identified" at Yucca Mountain, Nev., the proposed site for a permanent used fuel repository.
"One thing is clear: used fuel will have to be stored properly," Joos told the subcommittee. "The question is, does it make more sense to store it at dozens of locations across the country—including my company's two sites near Lake Michigan—or at one location in the Nevada desert?"
Joos said that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1999 (H.R. 45)—introduced by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) and cosponsored by 73 legislators—"sets concrete dates for the Energy Department to start accepting fuel at both a federal temporary storage facility and a disposal facility. The integrated fuel management program also establishes a blueprint for transportation of used fuel to those facilities in a manner that protects public health and safety and the environment."
The Upton-Towns bill is virtually identical to legislation approved 307-120 during the previous Congress, Joos noted. "The legislation builds upon sound technical and scientific assessments that support a permanent repository for used fuel at Yucca Mountain."
The administration's lack of commitment and DOE's repeated delays in managing used fuel, Joos said, threaten nuclear power's long-term ability to meet 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs. Nuclear energy produces electricity without harmful emissions and at competitive costs.
"For these reasons, Congress must tackle a significant national challenge for the 21st century-beginning federal acceptance of used nuclear fuel and providing certainty for safe disposal," Joos concluded. "Only Congress can set a sure course, and I urge the subcommittee to expedite a used fuel management and disposal program through H.R. 45 and to begin a sustained dialogue with the administration so that the two can work in partnership."
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.