Nuclear-Waste Hot Potato Gets Underway in House

This April 29, 2019, photo shows the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) area at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, in Vernon, Vt., which closed in 2014 after operating for 42 years. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Diving into a decades-long stalemate, federal lawmakers considered three bills Thursday that take different approaches to the storage and disposal of America’s nuclear waste.

Congress last attempted to tackle the problem in 1987 with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Though the law designated Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the sole location for disposing of spent nuclear fuel, opposition from the state ensured that construction of the repository was never completed.

The House Committee on Energy & Commerce noted in advance of today’s hearing that the intervening years have left 121 communities in 39 states with a nuclear-waste problem.

Representatives Jerry McNerney and John Shimk sponsored H.R. 2699 to jumpstart the Yucca Mountain repository, but Nevada official Robert Halstead testified before the committee Thursday that the “scientific, technical and legal merits” all counsel against construction.

“DOE bungled the first repository program, they bungled the second repository program, they bungled the overage monitor people’s storage program,” said Halstead, who is executive director for the Nevada Governor’s Office Agency for Nuclear Projects. “The nuclear program must be taken out of DOE if you want it to succeed.”

Halstead said Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, specifically opposes HR 2699 because the resolution relies on political science, rather than earth science, in calling for the facility to be built in Yucca Mountain.

Lake Barrett, the former acting director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said part of moving forward with establishing a plant was engaging in “good-faith discussions” with Nevada representatives to find a win-win solution.

“Speaking as a grandparent, as well as an engineer, it is simply irresponsible to saddle our children, grandchildren and future generations with spent nuclear fuel sitting in thousands of canisters in dozens of temporary storage locations scattered across the country with seemingly endless financial liabilities with no place to go,” Barrett said.

Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, emphasized meanwhile that the Great Lakes region alone is home today to over 50,000 tons of spent fuel.

“That’s almost as much as all spent nuclear fuel in the United States, which is nearly 70,000 tons,” Dingell said.

Lawmakers also considered today H.R. 3136, which would avoid the Yucca Mountain site, directing the Department of Energy to develop an interim storage program for nuclear waste.

Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat who introduced the bill, said its passage would jumpstart the removal of nuclear waste from the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, a decommissioned plant in Matsui’s district of Sacramento.

Austin Keyser, who serves as legislative affairs director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, argued meanwhile that is the nuclear industry that needs support.

“Hundreds of IBEW members lose their well-paying, family-supporting jobs every time a nuclear facility closes, often eliminating the biggest source of economic activity in their respective communities,” said Keyser, who  called nuclear energy a key source of carbon-less energy producers in the nation.

Keyser said IBEW supports 15,000 workers in the nuclear industry, whose energy accounts for nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity and for 50% of zero carbon emissions in the country.

Also among those to tout the industry Thursday was Representative Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican, who said public perception is one of the largest obstacles to expanding nuclear fuel facilities.

“We know that it’s safe, we know that our workers are in these facilities constantly,” Keyser said.

%d bloggers like this: