Yesterday, Senator Pete Domenici and Dr. Pete Miller hosted the fourth and final event in the BPC Nuclear Initiative event series – Near-Term Progress on Nuclear Waste Management: Implementing the Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Both BPC Nuclear Initiative Co-Chairmen believe there is an urgent need to break the current stalemate on nuclear waste management in the United States and to develop an effective system to manage the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Senator Domenici was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) which released a final report in January 2012 detailing recommendations for creating a safe, long-term solution for managing and disposing of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high‐level radioactive waste.
Senators Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, discussed their ongoing collaboration with Senators Feinstein and Alexander the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, to develop comprehensive bipartisan legislation on nuclear waste management. Senators Feinstein and Alexander recently passed an appropriations bill that authorizes Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a pilot program to establish one or more interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste.
Senator Murkowski stated that the BRC’s report has successfully ignited an appropriate sense of heightened urgency due to the building taxpayer liability for the federal government’s failure to take title to the spent fuel. With taxpayer damages and liability obligations projected to reach $50 billion by 2021, Senator Murkowski expressed concern that inaction is hurting both the future of nuclear power in the United States and our country’s fiscal situation. Senator Murkowski acknowledged that, while many legislators are focused solely on the potential Yucca Mountain repository, she is also looking at new options and strategies, particularly those that achieve local support.
Senator Bingaman discussed the key issues that their legislative proposal will address. He emphasized the importance of having a unified, systematic approach that links interim storage to a final repository. Senator Bingaman said much of their efforts have focused on developing a proposal for a new organization solely dedicated to implementing the waste management program. The BRC recommended creating a new federal corporation outside of the DOE and Senator Bingaman said they are exploring this and other models.
While both Senators Bingaman and Murkowski were pessimistic about the potential to pass such legislation in this Congress, they both stressed the importance of laying out a clear legislative path forward and advancing the process one step further.
Dr. Miller also moderated an expert panel featuring Marshall Cohen, Senior Director for State and Local Government Affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, Joseph S. Hezir, co-founder of the EOP Foundation, Inc., and Marge Kilkelly, Chair of Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel. The panel discussion highlighted the importance of systematic community engagement to build support for new facilities or transportation operations. Joe Hezir also stressed needed changes to the collection and management of the Nuclear Waste Fee, funds collected from nuclear utility ratepayers, to ensure that it is available for its designated nuclear waste management purposes.
Building on a successful year-long event series, the BPC Nuclear Initiative will release a high-level report this summer.
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