Morning Briefing - March 28, 2019
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March 28, 2019

Senators Could Try Again on Spent Fuel Interim Storage Bill

By ExchangeMonitor

A bipartisan group of senators suggested Wednesday they are gearing up for another legislative campaign to authorize interim storage of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors.

Senate Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he hopes to meet within two weeks with panel Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, “and we develop a plan and we move ahead.”

Alexander also urged Congress to decide once and for all in 2019 if it will support building a permanent repository for nuclear waste under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

“We need this year to decide what to do about Yucca Mountain. Either we’re going to build it or we’re not going to build it. We can’t just keep going on having a permanent stalemate on nuclear waste,” Alexander said in his opening statement to a subcommittee hearing on the Energy Department’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

Alexander and a handful of colleagues in 2013 and 2015 sponsored legislation that would, among other things, create a new organization to lead federal management of nuclear waste and establish a program to build one or more interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste until a permanent repository is ready. Neither bill made it out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Alexander and Feinstein have also previously proposed appropriations language to support an interim storage program. Those proposals, though, have run up against House appropriators’ focus on funding the Yucca Mountain disposal facility, with Congress ultimately funding neither approach in recent years.

Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Energy Department is responsible for disposal of the U.S. nuclear waste stockpile. The bill was amended five years later to direct that the material go to Yucca Mountain, but DOE does not yet have a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to build the facility.

The Energy Department is requesting $116 million for Yucca Mountain and interim storage in fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1.

Two corporate teams are seeking NRC licenses for separate interim storage sites in Texas and New Mexico.