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Senators unveil draft nuclear waste management bill

From the April 26, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published April 26, 2013

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director
A bipartisan group of four senators released a discussion draft of comprehensive nuclear waste management legislation that would establish a new nuclear waste administration and create a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities. They are seeking comment on the discussion draft and a number of policy and technical questions by May 24.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development—and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, collaborated on the proposal, which builds on work by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. 

The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 would establish a new federal agency, headed by a single administrator, but with an oversight board, to replace the Department of Energy as manager of the nuclear waste program. The bill directs the new agency to build a pilot spent fuel storage facility to store spent fuel from decommissioned nuclear power plants and emergency shipments from operating plants, as well as one or more consolidated storage facilities to store non-priority spent fuel for utilities or defense wastes for DOE on a temporary basis.

The legislation would establish a new siting process, applicable to both repositories and storage facilities, that requires the new nuclear waste agency to:
  • establish technical siting guidelines to evaluate sites; 
  • solicit states and communities to volunteer sites; 
  • obtain state, local and tribal consent to study sites; 
  • hold multiple public hearings before studying or selecting sites; 
  • obtain state, local and tribal consent to site a repository or storage facility; 
  • obtain congressional ratification of any consent agreement for a site; and 
  • obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate a repository or storage facility. 
While constructing and operating the storage facility, the new agency would be required to continue making progress toward siting and constructing a repository. If substantial progress is not made on a repository, waste shipments to the storage facility (other than emergency shipments) would cease, although waste already in storage would remain there.

The fees collected from nuclear utilities (currently about $765 million per year) would be deposited into a new Working Capital Fund in the Treasury. Those funds would be available to the administration without further appropriation. Fees already collected (about $28.2 billion as of January 2013) remain in the Nuclear Waste Fund, where they would continue to be subject to appropriation.

"Our country can’t wait any longer to find a long-term solution for disposing of nuclear waste," Wyden said. "I’m hopeful the feedback we receive will help us finish the job and allow us to move forward with legislation that puts the U.S. back on the path to safely managing and permanently disposing of the most radioactive wastes." 

"While I continue to support Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository site, I also recognize the current realities that make that outcome unlikely at this time," Murkowski said. "It is my hope that this discussion draft will help us quickly resolve the outstanding issues surrounding the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including whether progress on interim storage should be linked with the siting of a permanent repository."


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro