WASHINGTON—A viable used fuel management strategy is necessary to retain long-term public and policymaker confidence in operating existing nuclear power plants and to build new reactors to meet our nation’s growing electricity needs, Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer, told Congress today.
Bowman testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety.
He voiced electric utility industry support for the leadership of the committee and the Department of Energy (DOE) in the transition of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., used nuclear fuel repository project from a purely scientific program, focused on site characterization and site approval, to one that is preparing to enter a rigorous Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing process.
It is important that DOE file a high-quality repository license application and, ultimately, complete the transition to a design, engineering and construction project, Bowman said.
“The nuclear industry is encouraged by the ambitious schedule announced by the department on July 19 for submission of the license application by June 30, 2008, and the ‘best-achievable’ construction schedule that could have the repository receiving used fuel in March 2017,” Bowman said. “We encourage DOE to submit the application as soon as possible to facilitate an expeditious NRC review.”
Management of the nation’s used nuclear fuel is a federal government obligation, Bowman noted, adding that Congress should reaffirm its confidence in the federal commitment to ensure the safe, secure storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel byproducts.
Bowman told the committee that passage of the Nuclear Fuel Management Disposal Act (S. 2610) would help address challenges facing DOE and the NRC on the Yucca Mountain project. Key issues addressed by the bill include:
Artificial constraints on repository operations are eliminated. There is an artificial limit of 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste materials that can be accepted at the Yucca Mountain repository. Scientific analyses suggest significantly higher capacity could easily be achieved. In addition, advanced nuclear fuel cycle technologies could provide significant additional capacity for disposing of waste products in Yucca Mountain. S. 2610 would remove the 70,000-metric-ton limit.
Clarity and stability in the NRC licensing process is enhanced. The NRC repository licensing process should be restructured to ensure that the proceedings are managed effectively. The disciplined licensing approach is consistent with regulations developed over the past several years by the NRC to license other nuclear facilities.
Environmental reviews for Yucca Mountain are appropriately focused. The bill takes into account the unprecedented scope and duration of environmental reviews that will accompany the construction licensing process for the facility. It appropriately separates those non-nuclear issues related to infrastructure support activities from repository licensing and operations.
Bowman also encouraged Congress to incorporate features into the repository program that will give future generations the flexibility to make informed decisions based on repository performance, changing energy economics and technological developments. He testified it should be made clear that DOE intends to retain the ability to monitor and, if needed or desired, retrieve the used fuel resources for at least 300 years.
Bowman stressed the need for DOE to take action as soon as possible to remove used fuel from the nation’s nuclear plant sites.
“This is the industry’s top priority, and it is the federal government’s statutory and contractual obligation to do so,” he said.
With regard to interim storage, Bowman testified that consolidation and storage of used nuclear fuel on a temporary basis can provide significant benefits in cost, system integration, synergy with recycling/reprocessing technology development and confidence in the federal waste management program. And while nuclear fuel is stored safely today at nuclear plant sites, he urged Congress to evaluate alternative interim storage proposals.
One hundred and three nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five homes and businesses.
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.