Energy Secretary Says Yucca ‘Stalemate’ Delays Nuclear Disposal Solution

By Ambreen Ali, CQ Roll Call

Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz is expected to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that it’s time to give up on Yucca Mountain as a permanent disposal site for the nation’s commercial radioactive waste.

“The stalemate could continue indefinitely,” Moniz said in his written testimony, urging a consent-based alternative “rather than continuing to spend billions of dollars more on a project that faces such strong opposition.”

Moniz will testify that finding a Yucca alternative is the best way to address the disposal issue.

The House testimony follows Moniz’s appearance Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he offered support for efforts by four leading senators to address the nuclear waste storage issue.

Though he stopped short of endorsing the legislation (S 1240) proposed by the group, Moniz told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that the approach is very promising.

“The administration is ready and willing to engage with both chambers of Congress to move forward, and [the bill] provides a workable framework for that engagement,” Moniz said. The legislation was introduced last month by Energy Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the panel’s ranking Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and the top Energy Department appropriators, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander.

The measure would establish an independent agency to oversee nuclear waste and require its administrator to designate short-term nuclear storage facilities and at least one permanent repository within the decade.

The sites would have to be chosen through a consent-based process that requires permission both from the local government or tribe and the state government. Much of the focus of the hearing Tuesday centered on whether any localities would volunteer to host disposal sites.

The legislation draws from recommendations made by President Obama’s blue-ribbon commission on handling nuclear waste, on which Moniz served.

“The administration embraces the principles of the commission’s core recommendations, and like S. 1240 supports the goals of establishing a new workable, long-term solution for nuclear waste management,” the secretary testified at the hearing.

The senators also consulted Moniz while drafting their bill, so his supportive testimony came as no surprise. Still, his backing could help advance the proposal beyond an impasse over Yucca Mountain, the Nevada site designated to house the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.

Strong opposition to the Yucca Mountain site, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has kept it from ever opening. Republicans have insisted that Yucca remain on the table as discussions advance, particularly because no clear alternatives have yet been found. The Wyden legislation does not take a position on the issue, but calls for the government to consider other locations.

“Yucca Mountain was not designed to be big enough to handle all of the spent fuel and nuclear waste that will need disposal,” Wyden said in his opening remarks.

Moniz agreed, saying that regardless of what happens with Yucca, the nation will need more than one repository if nuclear technology continues to be a part of the nation’s energy future, as expected.

But several Republicans on the panel voiced opposition to abandoning the Yucca site, which has already cost taxpayers money for development. Moniz is likely to hear more of that when he appears before the House panel on Wednesday.

Murkowski and Alexander urged their Republican colleagues to give the legislation another look, expressing a willingness to discuss concerns.

“It would be fair to say that whether you’re for Yucca Mountain or against Yucca Mountain, that one could be for a bill — one should be for a bill — that finds some reasonable way to create new repositories and new consolidated sites on a parallel track as long as they’re consent-based,” Alexander said.

Source: CQ News
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