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Public Confidence in Nuclear Energy Rests in Part On Integrated Used Fuel Management Program

WASHINGTON—A viable used nuclear fuel management strategy is necessary to retain long-term public confidence in operating today’s nuclear power plants and building advanced reactors to meet future electricity demand, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said today in testimony submitted to the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“The public confidence necessary to support new construction is linked to successful implementation of an integrated used fuel policy, which includes a continued commitment for the long-term disposition of used nuclear fuel,” NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Frank L. “Skip” Bowman said in the statement.

The Bush administration, Congress and other stakeholders must work together to ensure that the Department of Energy (DOE) makes an effective transition from a scientific program to a licensing and construction program, with the same commitment to safety, Bowman added.

The industry believes that DOE has significant opportunities to advance its comprehensive used fuel management program, and the Yucca Mountain project in particular, Bowman said. The Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act (S. 2589) can address some of the issues slowing progress at Yucca Mountain, and industry encouraged the committee to hold hearings on the legislation as soon as possible.

Bowman said that DOE must make visible and measurable progress in implementing an integrated national management strategy for used reactor fuel. The department must address several issues to provide stability, clarity and predictability of the nation’s used fuel policy and conditions must be in place for near-term movement of used nuclear fuel, assurance of transportation safety and security, and licensing and construction of the repository planned for the Nevada desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The industry’s policy priorities for meeting this obligation are:

  • DOE is eight years in arrears of meeting its legal responsibility to manage used nuclear fuel and should move fuel to a secure federal facility as soon as practicable. The failure to do so already is subject of more than 60 lawsuits. Three of these suits, representing a fraction of reactor sites, have resulted in settlements or judgments of $340 million.
  • The nation’s policymakers must be confident that policies are in place to ensure the safe and secure storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel. Managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel is a firmly established federal obligation and, as such, is a matter of broad national policy. Therefore, Congress should codify its confidence that nuclear waste can be managed safely.
  • The congressional process for funding DOE’s used fuel management program should be changed so that fees paid to the nuclear waste trust fund can be used as needed. Under the current system, funding for the Yucca Mountain project must compete with other programs despite a dedicated source of revenue ($750 million annually) to pay for the program.
  • Artificial constraints on the repository capacity should be eliminated. Although the statutory limit for Yucca Mountain is 70,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU), the environmental impact statement projected a capacity of up to 120,000 MTU. Additional scientific analyses show that four to nine times the original fuel disposal capacity could be achieved without major changes to the repository design.
  • Federal licensing for the repository should be restructured so that the process is prioritized by four areas: construction of the repository; facilities such as a rail line and other infrastructure that can be developed before a decision on the construction license; authorization to receive fuel; and clarification of the regulations that apply to repository construction and operation and which agencies administer those regulations.

Bowman said the nuclear energy industry supports an active and constructive role for Nevada on issues of safety and environmental protection as the repository program moves forward. The industry also supports compensation for the state, as provided by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. This model is consistent with benefits provided to New Mexico during construction and operation of DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

“The industry fully supports the fundamental need for a repository so used nuclear fuel and the byproducts of the nation’s nuclear weapons program are safely and securely managed in a specially designed, underground facility,” Bowman said. “World-class science has demonstrated that Yucca Mountain is the best site for such a facility.

“A public works project of this magnitude—the largest ever of its kind—will inevitably face setbacks. Yet, none is insurmountable. DOE and its contractors have made significant progress on the project and will continue to do so as the department prepares to submit a license application to the NRC. However, DOE is eight years late in meeting its commitment to begin accepting reactor fuel and must proceed without further delay with an integrated used fuel management strategy,” Bowman 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