WASHINGTON—The Clinton Administration's proposal to assume ownership of used nuclear fuel and continue storing it at commercial and defense sites across the country would undermine the long-term national disposal program.
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson told a Senate committee today that the agency is willing to take legal responsibility for managing used nuclear fuel at current sites. Under a 1982 law and contracts with electric utilities, the Energy Department has a legal obligation to move used nuclear fuel from nuclear power plant sites, beginning Jan. 31, 1998.
"Instead of maintaining its commitment to the national policy of building one federal disposal facility, DOE is proposing building federal storage sites at 72 sites around the country," said Joe F. Colvin, president and chief executive officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
"This proposal ultimately will undermine the nation's program—based on scientific consensus—4to manage used nuclear fuel from commercial and U.S. defense nuclear programs at a single underground repository," Colvin added. "The end game of this proposal is that there will be no permanent facility for disposal of this fuel, and $15 billion committed from consumers since 1983 to pay for a disposal program will be siphoned away to pay for this short-term political fix."
Richardson's proposal met resistance in Congress, which in 1997 passed legislation instructing the Energy Department to build one temporary storage facility to consolidate fuel until a permanent disposal facility is built and licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That legislation was not enacted, however. Similar legislation providing authorization for DOE to build the central storage facility has been introduced in the House of Representatives and has the support of more than 100 cosponsors. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.
"Consolidating used nuclear fuel at one location is a sensible approach that will meet the federal government's legal obligation," Colvin said. "By passing legislation, Congress can ensure that repository program continues and that federal management of fuel until that time is done more efficiently at one location—not at federal sites scattered across the United States."
Although Richardson acknowledged "the costs and physical limitations of continued storage of spent fuel" at nuclear power plants, he offered the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee no definitive plan on how the Energy Department would meets its obligation to move fuel from plant sites, now more than one year past due without any fuel receipt by the federal government.
Instead, Richardson said "I hope to avoid an unnecessary legislative showdown this year." The administration has threatened to veto legislation in each of the past three sessions of Congress that would have provided the Department of Energy the policy guidance to begin moving fuel to one facility rather than developing storage sites at 72 locations. Some states, lacking confidence that the federal government will move fuel from plant sites, have limited expansion of storage at nuclear power plants, and could be at odds with Richardson's proposal.
"The White House is offering to take title to fuel they already own, using billions of dollars from electricity consumers in a manner that could jeopardize the long term goal of permanent fuel disposal," Colvin said. "Consolidating this fuel at one location, after the Energy Department determines the disposal site suitable, clearly makes better policy sense than creating more than 70 new federal sites."
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.