Four senior U.S. senators on Thursday, introduced a bipartisan, comprehensive plan for safeguarding and permanently disposing of tens of thousands of tons of dangerous radioactive nuclear waste currently accumulating at sites dispersed across the country.
Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tn. – the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development – and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Or., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Al., collaborated on the proposal, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 (S. 1240).
“Stalemate can’t solve our nation’s nuclear waste issues. This bill takes immediate steps to more safely store the most dangerous radioactive waste, and lays out a clear plan for a permanent solution,” Senator Wyden said. “Senators Murkowski, Feinstein and Alexander deserve enormous credit for the work and creativity that made this bipartisan bill possible.”
“I’m pleased to have worked with Sens. Wyden, Feinstein, and Alexander to include language that gets us back on a path to addressing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle,” Senator Murkowski said. “By moving forward on interim storage and a permanent repository through parallel tracks, the federal government can send a strong signal to utilities, rate payers, and the American public that we will meet our obligations on used nuclear fuel.”
“This bipartisan bill—years in the making—will finally begin to address the dangerous, expensive absence of a comprehensive nuclear waste policy,” Senator Feinstein said. “In addition to creating an independent Nuclear Waste Administration to manage nuclear waste, the bill authorizes the construction of interim storage facilities and permanent waste repositories, sited through a consent-based process and funded by fees currently collected from nuclear power ratepayers. The inability of the federal government to collect waste stored across the country at functioning power plants, decommissioned reactors and federal facilities is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s time to finally put a policy in place to address this problem.”
“After 25 years of stalemate, this legislation puts us back on the road to finding safe places to dispose of used nuclear fuel,” Senator Alexander said. “It does this in the obvious way: by making local, state and federal governments equal partners in the process of finding temporary and permanent storage for nuclear waste. This is important because nuclear power provides 60 percent of our reliable, air-pollution-free electricity.”
Currently there is no central repository for spent nuclear fuel, leaving fuel rods to be stored on-site at dozens of commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including areas that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. Millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons programs are also being stored at Department of Energy sites around the country. The 2011 Fukushima disaster, combined with recent announcements of new radioactive waste leaks at the Hanford Site in Washington State add to the urgency of securing spent fuel and finding permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.
The bill updates an April draft, after the Energy committee received more than 2,500 public comments on the measure. It includes establishment of a new nuclear waste administration and creates a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities. It also enables the federal government to address its commitment to managing commercial nuclear waste, limiting the costly liability the government bears for its failure to dispose of commercial spent fuel. The integrated storage and repository system established by this legislation will expand opportunities for nuclear power to supply low-carbon energy, and will provide long-term protection of public health and safety for both commercial and defense high-level waste.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is planning a hearing on the bill in July. The date and witnesses will be announced when they are confirmed.