Congress defends Yucca while Senators suggest White House roundtable with industry on nuclear prospects

wikimedia commons

Publish date: March 25, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – Groups of US representatives from both sides of the aisle in the House of representative have introduced a resolution of disapproval to stop the Administration of President Barack Obama from shutting down the nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain in order save crucial project data, Congressional aides told Bellona Web Thursday.

In the Senate, meanwhile, a bipartisan group there has said the White House should convene a summit on nuclear energy to discuss strategies for its further development as well as the creation of a government and industry working group.

“We believe that the White House’s support will be crucial to convene the right leaders in the U.S. government and the private sector to develop a strategy to ensure that nuclear power plays a necessary and vital role in our national energy and environmental policy,” the senators wrote in a letter to the White House.

Among those signing the letter include Senators Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat,  Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, Virginia Democrat Jim Web, Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, Ohio Republican George Voinovich, Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Oklahoma Republican, and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), according to Carper’s office.

The senators intend to discuss a 50-year strategy to ensure nuclear power’s future in the domestic energy supply including “major initiatives that are currently under way or contemplated for the nation” and private-sector and government responsibilities. Lawmakers are also interested in discussing an industry-government working group to advise government agencies on effective implementation of resources to accomplish the national nuclear policies, ClimateWire reported.

Nuclear gaining more traction in energy debate

Both the disapproval initiative from the House and the letter from the Senate are a sign of the momentum that nuclear power is gaining in the current debate over the shape of the US climate and energy bill, which Obama promised would reduce US emissions by 17 percent under 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Earlier this month, President Obama said he would provide $8.3 billion in loan guarantees – to increase to $54 billion – to help back the building of the first nuclear power plants in the United States in more than three decades.

Bellona has deplored the revival of nuclear as a source of carbon free energy in the wake of the Copenhagen climate talks.

“Replacing CO2 emitting energy sources with nuclear power is tantamount to trying to cure the plague with cholera,” said Bellona nuclear physicist and director Nils Bøhmer.

“The United States should focus on developing carbon capture and storage technology, renewable technology, in addition to an increased focus on energy conservation,” he said.

Bellona’s position paper on nuclear power as a green house gas combating technology can be found here.

The Yucca resolution of disapproval takes aim at the US Department of Energy to prevent it from using appropriated funds to end the project and to preserve “all scientific and site specific file and data related to Yucca Mountain,” said a statement from Representative Doc Hasitings, a Republican from the state of Washington.

Hastings is joined in the measure by Washington Democrate Jay Inslee, South Carolina Democrate James Clayburn, Washington Democrat Norm Dicks, South Carolina Democrat John Sprett, Jr. Michigan Democrat Fred Upton and South Carolina Republican Gresham Barrett, all of whom represent state districts were spent nuclear fuel is being stored, ClimateWire reported.

Bipartisan support for continuing Yucca

“This resolution sends a clear message that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will continue actively working to keep the Yucca Mountain license moving forward,” Hastings said in his statement.

At the beginning of the month, the Energy Department officially filed to withdraw its license application for the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, with prejudice, meaning the site could never again be considered for a repository.

Shutting down the Yucca Mountain project, which objective scientific investigations have show would leak radioactive waste into the water table should it move forward, was one of the first US budget items that Obama took a direct swipe at almost immediately after taking office by reducing its funding to a bare minimum

Energy Secretary Steven Chu followed suit in June at a Senate hearing decisively shutting the project down, adding the United States would not consider reversing a 30-year-old policy against reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to combat mounting drums of spent nuclear fuel.

Chu, a Nobel Laureate and physicist, abruptly told the June Senate hearing, relative to why the Yucca mountain project was being shut down, that “we can do better,” adding that spent nuclear fuel currently in storage on site was safe for 100 years.

Earlier this week he reiterated that science does not support a repository at Yucca and the United States should reconsider its waste management policy based on advances in technology and science. Chu appeared before the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee this afternoon to defend DOE’s $28.4 billion proposed 2011 spending budget, which includes no appropriation for Yucca.

Blue-Ribbon panel on waste disposal convened

Beyond that, Chu has appointed a 15-member Blue Ribbon Commission to review and consider alternative means to manage US nuclear waste including interim storage, reprocessing and different geologic formations for a final repository. That commission held its first meeting this week and must produce a draft report in about 18 months.

Meanwhile, the US government is responsible for taking charge of spent nuclear waste under the 1983 Congressional resolution that created the Yucca Project to begin with. US taxpayers have already invested more than $10 billion in Yucca and are still chipping in to the creation of a repository to the tune of $750 million in fees per year on electricity generated by nuclear power.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Nuclear Energy Institute are currently exploring their legal options to address this issue, the groups announced recently.

“Taxpayers have already spent more than $10 billion on Yucca Mountain, compiling 20 years of data that inform us that this is the best choice to securely store tons of nuclear waste,” Inslee said, according to ClimateWire. “Keeping waste scattered across the country, or in the case of Washington state at Hanford, is no longer an option. We have a solution to this problem and we must move forward.”