WASHINGTON—A Bush administration legislative proposal to facilitate management of used nuclear fuel is strongly supported by the nuclear energy industry and would be “a major milestone” on the road to proper environmental stewardship of this material, an industry leader told the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality today.
DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Anthony Earley Jr.—chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute’s board of directors—also said there are additional provisions that Congress should consider in comprehensive legislation that could be undertaken in parallel with development of a federal government repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.
“To realize fully the benefits that nuclear power offers, the country must resolve outstanding issues related to the ultimate disposal of used nuclear fuel,” Earley said.
The focus of the House energy panel’s hearing was nuclear waste storage and disposal, including the administration’s Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act (H.R. 5360). Key provisions of the bill would:
articulate the government’s confidence in the safe and secure disposal of used nuclear fuel as a matter of national policy; this would eliminate the need for a determination of “waste confidence” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of individual plant licensing actions;
remove the artificial 70,000-metric ton capacity limitation on 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
assure that there will be adequate funding for the Department of Energy’s used fuel management program by changing the budget treatment for the federal Nuclear Waste Fund, yet maintaining congressional oversight of the use of the fund. Billions of dollars from electricity customers have been paid into the fund but only a fraction of that money has been spent for its intended purpose.
“Enactment of H.R. 5360, with the amendments we advocate, is the critical prerequisite to implementing our national policy for used fuel management,” Earley said. “A viable used fuel management strategy is necessary to retain long-term public confidence in operating existing nuclear power plants and in building new nuclear power plants to meet our nation’s growing electricity needs, and to fuel our economic growth.”
The industry also supports movement of used nuclear fuel on an expedited basis and guidance from Congress on prospective Department of Energy contracts for used-fuel management at new nuclear power plants. Developments that have occurred since the contracts for existing power plants were executed in the 1980s warrant this new guidance from federal lawmakers.
Earley 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,” Earley 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.
Federal law required the Department of 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.
“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. Further delays in federal movement of used nuclear fuel and defense waste products will only add to utility damage claims,” Earley 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.