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#SubEnvironment Examines Legislation Related to the Nation’s Nuclear Waste Management

Apr 26, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Environment, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today held a hearing examining a discussion draft of legislation related to the nation’s nuclear waste management.

H.R.___, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, provides practical reforms to the nation’s nuclear waste management policy to ensure the federal government’s obligations to dispose used nuclear fuel and high-level waste can be fulfilled. The discussion draft builds on the committee’s previous work as it relates to ensuring a comprehensive solution for the nation’s nuclear waste management policy. In the 114th Congress, the Subcommittee on Environment and the economy held seven hearings to inform its efforts to draft legislation.

Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), discussed the ongoing storage problems states face due to the delay in getting Yucca Mountain across the finish line, “Today, there are currently 121 communities across 39 states that are grappling with the limitations of storing nuclear waste while our country lacks a permanent geological repository. Communities of my home state of South Carolina, in the Chairman’s state of Illinois, the Ranking Member’s state of New York – in the home states of the majority of members of the committee all store nuclear material. Each of the 121 communities has been forced to store nuclear waste while they wait for the federal government to honor its promise by providing permanent storage at Yucca Mountain.” 

Edward Sproat, former Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management at the Department of Energy, outlined the three things that need to happen to ensure the proper disposal of nuclear waste, stating, “In order for the Country to move forward with the permanent disposal of its high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, it needs three things: 1) a licensed place to put it, 2) the ability to move it from around the Country to that site, and 3) an organization that is adequately funded and has the requisite authorities so that it can be held accountable for the cost and schedule of executing the program in accordance with the law.”

Anthony O’Donnell, Chairman of the Nuclear Issues Subcommittee at the Nation Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, discussed his support for the discussion draft, testifying, “The federal government missed the statutory deadline to start accepting nuclear waste in 1998. In 2002, the project site – Yucca Mountain, was approved by Congress, but since then efforts to block funding to complete the Yucca Mountain license review, in tandem with the U.S. Department of Energy’s illegal refusal to pursue the license application at the NRC, stymied progress. … We welcome the “Discussion Draft” released last week as a very positive step forward to correct unanticipated, but serious, structure flaws in the nation’s nuclear waste disposal policy framework.”

Mark McManus, General President of the United Association Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Welders and Service Techs of the United States and Canada, noted findings concerning the safety of Yucca Mountain, stating, “Yucca Mountain is in a remote section of the Mojave Desert and the secure storage facility is located 1,000 feet underground. A study released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2014 concluded that the design met all the agency’s requirements. They stated,  the ‘proposed repository as designed will be capable of safely isolating used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste for the 1-million-year period specified in the regulations.’”

Steven Nesbit, Chairman of the Backend Working Group at the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, echoed O’Donnell’s support, commenting, “The discussion draft of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 would make important and desirable changes to the country’s framework for waste management. … Congress should appropriate funding to the DOE and the NRC to restart the Yucca Mountain licensing process.”


Chairman Walden delivers his opening statement

“Along with 33 other states, Oregon ratepayers fulfilled their financial obligations under the law and paid the Department of Energy over $160 million to dispose of commercial spent nuclear fuel,” said full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). “The costs to the American taxpayer to pay for the federal government’s delay in opening the Yucca Mountain repository have nearly doubled to $30 billion since 2009 and that figure continues to escalate. The time to fix this problem is now and today’s hearing began the process of providing a path forward.” 


#SubEnvironment Chairman Shimkus listens to witness opening statements

“The committee has heard from scores of expert witnesses over the past six years about challenges and opportunities to advance our nation’s nuclear waste management policy. This discussion draft reflects what we learned through those hearings, oversight activities and related work. However, it is just that: a discussion draft. And today we began the process of taking input from all stakeholders involved on this draft. Our goal here is to identify the right reforms to ensure we can fulfill the government’s obligation to dispose of our nation’s nuclear material,” concluded #SubEnvironment Chairman Shimkus.

For a list of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s work on nuclear waste management policy, click HERE.

To read the letter sent by the committee to Energy Secretary Perry regarding nuclear waste management policy, and Secretary Perry's response, click HERE

A background memo, witness testimony, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found online HERE.

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