WASHINGTON—A Bush Administration legislative proposal to facilitate management of used nuclear fuel is strongly supported by the nuclear energy industry and is “a good start” to help the federal government meet its obligation to remove the material from reactor sites, an industry leader told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.
Southern Nuclear Operating Co. President and CEO J. Barnie Beasley—a member of the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Executive Committee—also said there are additional issues that Congress should consider in comprehensive legislation that could be undertaken in parallel with development of the geologic repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.
“In order to fully realize the benefits that nuclear power offers, a solution to the problem of disposal of used nuclear fuel must be found,” Beasley said.
The focus of the Senate energy panel’s hearing was the administration’s Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act (S.2589). Key provisions of the bill would:
articulate the government’s confidence in used nuclear fuel disposal as a matter of national policy;
increase the amount of commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs that can be placed into the Yucca Mountain repository; and
address funding aspects of the government’s nuclear waste management program to assure that billions of dollars of electricity customer commitments to the federal Nuclear Waste Fund are used for their intended purpose.
“The industry fully supports S.2589 and believes its enactment would be a major milestone in implementing our national strategy for managing used nuclear fuel,” Beasley said.
Urging consideration of additional legislative measures to strengthen the government’s nuclear waste management program, he added, “The industry’s top priority is for the federal government to meet its statutory and contractual obligation to move used fuel away from operating and decommissioned reactor sites.”
Federal law required the Department of the Energy to begin disposing of used nuclear fuel in 1998, but the government has defaulted on its obligation, and dozens of utility lawsuits against the government are pending in federal court. DOE’s revised schedule for the Yucca Mountain repository envisions the facility opening in 2017 at the earliest.
Continued progress in managing used nuclear fuel will help ensure that nuclear energy continues to play a key role in the nation’s future energy security, Beasley said.
“Based on many years of experience in operating nuclear power plants, I am convinced that nuclear power offers a clean and cost-effective answer to many of our nation’s current and future energy needs. Although our nation must continue to employ a mix of fuel sources for generating electricity, it is important that nuclear energy maintain at least the current 20 percent contribution to U.S. electricity production,” he said.
One hundred and three commercial reactors in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five homes and businesses. The used nuclear fuel that results from the production of nuclear power is housed in 12-foot-long fuel assemblies that are stored in steel-lined concrete pools and, increasingly, in dry storage containers at plant sites as fuel pools reach their capacity.
The industry supports these key provisions of S.2589:
A strong government commitment to the Yucca Mountain program, for example, through land withdrawal provisions, licensing process amendments and infrastructure activities;
Assurance that there will be adequate funding for the Department of Energy’s used fuel management program by changing the budget treatment for the Nuclear Waste Fund, yet maintaining congressional oversight;
Removing the artificial, 70,000-metric ton capacity limitation for the Yucca Mountain repository; and
Reaffirmation on a broad policy basis the nation’s confidence in geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel, eliminating the need for a determination of “waste confidence” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“Enactment of S.2589 is the critical prerequisite to implementing our national policy for used fuel management,” Beasley said.
Other important issues that the industry has identified include movement of used nuclear fuel on an expedited basis and guidance from Congress on prospective Department of Energy contracts that would address used-fuel management for new nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act limits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s ability to issue licenses for new power plants unless such contracts are in place.
Beasley expressed the industry’s support for “an active and constructive role for Nevada in the development of Yucca Mountain to help ensure the safety of its citizens” and for compensation for the state to address the program’s socioeconomic impact.
“The industry is encouraged by the steps DOE has taken to work with affected local governments in the state, and we further encourage DOE to expand its interactions with Nevadans interested in constructive engagement in the project,” Beasley said.
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.