WASHINGTON—The following is a statement from Terry Freese, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s director of legislative programs, on the federal government’s nuclear waste management program. Congress overwhelmingly approved Yucca Mountain, Nev., last year for development of an underground disposal facility for used nuclear fuel from commercial power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The Department of Energy (DOE) is preparing a license application for Yucca Mountain that is expected to be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by December 2004.
“The government’s nuclear waste management program is at a critical juncture. It is imperative that Congress provide the funding necessary for the Department of Energy to meet its timetable for submitting the Yucca Mountain license application and the many related activities required to get the Yucca Mountain project back on track.
“For far too long, Congress has shortchanged the Yucca Mountain program. Full funding in fiscal year 2004 is critical to DOE meeting the 2004 target for submitting the license application. Failure to meet the 2004 target date for completing the license application would have a cascading effect on subsequent program goals and the initial operations of the repository scheduled to begin operating in 2010.
“The Nuclear Energy Institute strongly supports the $765 million budget allocation for Yucca Mountain in fiscal 2004 approved by the House of Representatives. This is a necessary first step in offsetting reductions from previous years.
“Each year of further delay going forward could add $500 million to federal costs, according to the Energy Department. Our own analysis indicates that delaying repository operations five years to 2015 would cost $4 billion or more in additional interim used fuel storage costs.
“Budgeting shortfalls and potential increased costs could be mitigated if Congress would modify the current budget rules governing the use of the Nuclear Waste Fund.
“The Nuclear Waste Fund has unique characteristics that justify modifying the current budget rules governing its use. It is self-financed by electricity customers at about $750 million a year and the receipts are specifically intended for the used nuclear fuel disposal program. The program must remain subject to congressional oversight, but the Yucca Mountain program funding should not compete for this dedicated funding with unrelated programs without accounting for the offsetting fees.
“The industry encourages Congress to pursue legislative options for restoring the Nuclear Waste Fund principles that re-establish the direct link between income and expenditures. Developing a new funding process for the Yucca Mountain project is essential to complete one of the world’s most important environmental facilities. It will permit the U.S. government to begin fulfilling its legal obligation to move used nuclear fuel from 40 states to a single, underground federal repository.”
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.