WASHINGTON, D.C.—Immediate congressional action is necessary to establish a sustainable and credible national policy on used nuclear fuel management, the leader of the U.S. nuclear energy industry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.
Used fuel management legislation proposed by a bipartisan group of senators is “a positive start to overhauling the federal program … (but) additional enhancements should be made to ensure the creation of a sustainable integrated program,” said Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer.
“The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 is a significant step forward” and could garner wide stakeholder support with the additional features that the nuclear energy industry is recommending, Fertel said. “While the industry has and always will manage its used nuclear fuel safely and securely, we believe that action by Congress is necessary to establish a sustainable program and reduce the liabilities for the taxpayer as quickly as possible.”
The federal government is 15 years past due in meeting its statutory and contractual obligations to begin disposing of used uranium fuel rods. Two billion dollars in damage awards to industry from federal courts and a growing taxpayer liability have resulted from dozens of lawsuits filed against the federal government for its failure to meet its obligation. Many lawsuits still are pending in federal court.
Damages awarded by the court could total $21 billion if the federal government begins accepting used fuel in 2020, and may increase as much as $500 million annually for each year after 2020 that the U.S. Department of Energy does not begin accepting used fuel, according to a 2012 estimate by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.
Fertel highlighted key principles the nuclear industry supports in a new system to manage used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The industry’s vision of an integrated used nuclear management strategy is premised on a new management and disposal organization outside the Energy Department, as well the development of one or more consolidated fuel storage sites hosted by volunteer communities.
“Pursuit of a geologic repository and a consolidated storage facility should be pursued simultaneously, as the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 requires,” Fertel said.
The new oversight organization must have access to the federal Nuclear Waste Fund—more than $750 million in annual payments made by consumers of nuclear-generated electricity—without reliance on the annual congressional appropriations process. Consumers of electricity generated at nuclear facilities have committed more than $35 billion since 1982 to the Nuclear Waste Fund via a surcharge on monthly electric bills of one/tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour.
Fertel also told committee members that the licensing review of the geologic repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev., must be completed.
“Since the Obama administration suspended review of the Yucca Mountain repository license application in 2010, the federal government has not had a viable used fuel management program,” Fertel said. “Consumers deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe disposal site, as billions of dollars and years of independent scientific research suggest.”
In recent years, significant bipartisan support has emerged for development of temporary, consolidated storage and a viable repository. From the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to state governors to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there is consensus support for consolidated storage developed in concurrence with siting one or more repositories, Fertel noted.
“The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013, as currently structured, would not sufficiently insulate the new Nuclear Waste Administration leadership from the political process,” Fertel said. Numerous studies “advocate consistently for a management entity with a corporate structure providing continuity, efficiency and an appropriate degree of insulation from undue political influence,” he added.
“Energy companies, their local communities and states, and American taxpayers deserve to have confidence in a federal program that will meet its obligations to safely and securely transport, store and ultimately dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste,” Fertel said.
Nuclear energy facilities operating in 31 states generate one-fifth of U.S. electricity supplies.
Earlier this month, NEI released the findings of a nationwide survey of residents living within 10 miles of every U.S. nuclear power plant. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed agree the federal government should retool its program for managing used fuel rods to focus on consolidating the fuel at storage centers while it develops a permanent disposal facility.