Senate Democrats


Bill will eliminate need for central nuclear waste repository like proposed Yucca Mountain project

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign introduced legislation today mandating that nuclear waste be stored on-site where it is produced and requiring the federal government to take responsibility for possession, stewardship, maintenance, and monitoring of the waste.

For decades, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the government has focused only on the proposed Yucca Mountain site as a central repository for nuclear waste generated at plants around the country. However, conclusive evidence has shown that the Yucca Mountain project is fraught with safety, scientific and budgetary problems, making it a near certainty that the site will never be approved for use. Additionally, any plan that includes only one waste site would require transporting nuclear material from sites all over the country across thousands of miles, greatly increasing the chances of an accident or terrorist attack.

The legislation introduced today would eliminate the need for a single repository, ensuring nuclear waste can be safely stored on-site and under control of the federal government. The legislation will also increase safety at all nuclear power plants by providing funding for additional security to guard against accidents or terrorist attack.

“The Yucca Mountain project is never going to open,” Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, said. “It is time we put the safety of this country first and approach the storage of nuclear waste in a way that is productive and realistic. There cannot be any weak links in the chain of security of our nation’s nuclear power infrastructure. Storing nuclear waste on-site is the safest, most reasonable and most effective way of allowing nuclear power companies to continue operating while keeping the health and safety of Americans as our top priority.”

“What we are proposing today represents the safest and most responsible course of action available for storing nuclear waste,” Ensign said. “The dry cask storage technology exists to provide a viable, on-site alternative to shipping waste across the country and it is time we make use of that technology for the health and safety of Americans everywhere. Yucca Mountain is not feasible and it is not acceptable. This is a safe and real solution for nuclear waste storage.”

Reid and Ensign pointed to a long list of set backs for the Yucca Mountain project including a July, 2004 court decision that the radiation standard for the site was not stringent enough to protect the public from the significant risks associated with nuclear waste and a November 2004 announcement by the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board that there is no plan for safely transporting nuclear waste to the proposed repository.

The same board in February of this year called for hearings to review concerns over the corrosion of the titanium drip shields that are supposed to keep water from leaking into casks inside Yucca Mountain. On March 16, 2005, the Department of Energy announced the falsification of document and models about water infiltration, a key issue, at Yucca Mountain. On July 18, 2005, DOE announced that if Yucca Mountain were to open, high-level nuclear waste would be shipped by train ignoring the fact that about one-third of reactor sites are not capable of shipping fuel by rail.

The legislation was cosponsored by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). It would require nuclear power companies to store nuclear waste in what is known as dry cask storage containers. As approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, dry cask containers can safely store waste for at least one-hundred years and are already used at thirty-three nuclear power site throughout the country.

“I’ve always said that storage on site is the right scientific answer, but differing state laws have made it impossible. The Reid legislation resolves this problem, and buys us time to craft a sensible national policy on nuclear energy,” said Sen. Bob Bennett.

Companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives today by Representatives Jim Matheson (D-UT), Jim Gibbons (R-NV), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Jon Porter (R-NV) and Rob Bishop (R-UT).

Summary of The Spent Nuclear Fuel On-Site Storage Security Act of 2005

Amends the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 as follows:

· Requires commercial nuclear utilities to transfer nuclear waste from spent nuclear fuel pools into dry storage casks within 6 years after enactment or 6 years after the waste is produced, whichever comes first.

· Requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to take title of all spent nuclear fuel currently in on-site dry cask storage within 30 days of enactment.

· Requires the spent nuclear fuel on-site storage sites and storage casks to comply with NRC regulations.

· Requires the DOE to take title to, and full responsibility for the waste at the reactor sites after it has been transferred to dry cask storage in compliance with regulations.

· Expenditures from the Nuclear Waste Fund will compensate utilities for expenses associated with transferring, storing and securing the waste.