WASHINGTON—Testifying before a congressional energy subcommittee, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) today urged swift approval by federal lawmakers of Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the site for development of an underground repository for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive material from U.S. defense programs.
Describing Yucca Mountain as “a safe and secure site” for a permanent disposal facility, NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Colvin told the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality that Congress historically has supported nuclear technology on a bipartisan basis and encouraged it to continue doing so. He called on Congress to approve the site so the government’s used nuclear fuel management program can proceed to the next phase, where the Department of Energy (DOE) would submit a licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“The science necessary to make a suitability decision is complete. It would be imprudent to further delay this important national facility with additional studies until the site is selected,” Colvin said.
Twenty years of world-class study by hundreds of expert scientists and engineers has produced “an indisputable body of evidence” supporting the designation of Yucca Mountain as a repository site, Colvin said.
“Teams of the world’s best scientists examined every aspect of the natural environment at Yucca Mountain—including collecting and examining more than 75,000 feet of core rock and 18,000 geologic and water samples. A broad spectrum of experts, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agree that there is sufficient information to support the President’s recommendation of Yucca Mountain as a safe repository site,” he said.
Used nuclear fuel is the byproduct of electricity generation at the 103 nuclear power plants, operating in 31 states, that provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. While used fuel currently is stored safely at nuclear power plants, the
National Academy of Sciences has recommended repeatedly since 1957 that geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel is the safest, most efficient means of permanently isolating the material.
Dozens of nuclear power plants are running out of on-site storage space in the absence of federal action, Colvin warned. By the end of 2010, the earliest the proposed Yucca Mountain facility could begin operating, 78 reactors will have exhausted their original storage capacity for used nuclear fuel.
“A repository is imperative for our energy security, given that nuclear energy provides 20 percent of all U.S. electricity and is the largest source of electricity that doesn’t pollute the air,” he said.
A repository is equally important for national security because about 40 percent of the Navy’s most essential vessels, such as aircraft carriers and submarines, are nuclear-powered ships, he said.
Colvin noted that the federal government’s used nuclear fuel management program is financed largely through a tax on the millions of consumers who benefit from the use of nuclear energy, at the rate of one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour (kwh) on monthly electric bills. Last year, with nuclear power plants producing a record 767 billion kwh of electricity, the tax collected by the U.S. Treasury exceeded $750 million.
“The Energy Department’s delays have resulted in dual payments by electricity consumers for used nuclear fuel management—one to fund the Yucca Mountain project and a second to pay for additional temporary storage at nuclear plants because of DOE’s default” on its statutory obligation to begin disposing of used fuel in 1998, Colvin said. “Electricity consumers deserve a solution to this issue that is based on sound science and that protects public health and safety.”
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress must decide whether to approve the proposed repository site, since Nevada’s governor has rejected President Bush’s approval of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham’s recommendation of the site earlier this year. The governor had the unique authority to object to the site under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Joint resolutions approving the site are pending in the House and Senate. They require simple majority votes in favor for passage.
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 .