Morning Briefing - October 25, 2017
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October 25, 2017

House Dems Fret Yucca Bill Could Doom Interim Storage; Support Yucca Bill Anyway

By ExchangeMonitor

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee reiterated their support for a major nuclear-waste policy bill Tuesday, despite misgivings that the proposal might delay the day spent reactor fuel is moved away from the power plants that generated it.

If the the 45-page Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 became law, it would smooth the way for the Department of Energy to build a permanent nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nye County, Nev. The bill — spearheaded by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) — would also allow DOE to contract with a private company to build an interim waste-storage site where spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants could be consolidated while awaiting final disposal at Yucca.

However, the bill would forbid DOE from actually storing waste in an interim storage facility until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approves or disapproves DOE’s application to build Yucca — something experts estimate could take two to five years.

“[W]e remain concerned that any provisions addressing Yucca Mountain greatly narrow the legislation’s path to enactment, thus hindering efforts to address more immediate and pressing needs for interim storage,” committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and environment subcommmitee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) wrote in a 117 report published Tuesday and appended to the Shimkus legislation.

Still, the two lawmakers said the bill was overall “a balanced step in the right direction that will benefit ratepayers, taxpayers and those living near nuclear facilities housing nuclear waste.”

The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 sailed through the Energy and Commerce Committee on a broadly bipartisan vote of 49-4 on June 28. Shimkus’ bill has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote in the House, but it has crept steadily closer to an up-or-down decision throughout October. Now that the bill report is out, the underlying proposal could make it to the floor as soon as the House Rules Committee sets the rules for floor debate.