Proposed federal legislation calls for nuclear waste from shutdown plants to have new home by 2021
|Monday, May 13, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Proposed legislation released on April 25 could pave the way toward solving a lingering problem for the nation’s nuclear energy industry — what to do with the waste.
The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 is a bipartisan compromise between Democratic U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon (chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) and Dianne Feinstein of California, and Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The proposal, which is similar to a bill introduced in 2012, calls for a pilot storage facility for “priority waste” (spent fuel from shut-down reactors) to be operational by the end of 2021. By 2025, an additional facility for nonpriority waste would be expected, with a permanent disposal facility to be in operation by the end of 2048.
A new independent federal agency, the Nuclear Waste Administration, would be established to undertake these actions. It would take over for the U.S. Department of Energy, which has had responsibility for the federal waste management program since 1982.
The DOE’s work has been hampered by a lack of sufficient funding, despite the existence of a dedicated Nuclear Waste Fund for costs related to siting and operating a repository.
The fund has an estimated balance of $28.2 billion collected from utility ratepayers whose electricity is generated by nuclear power plants. Ratepayers annually contribute around $765 million into the fund.
The Nuclear Waste Act would create a new Working Capital Fund to receive deposits of nuclear waste fees collected annually from ratepayers, and the agency would have access to these funds without further appropriations. The billions of dollars in the existing Nuclear Waste Fund would be available only by congressional appropriation.
Other provisions in the legislative proposal address federal assistance for state transportation-safety programs and establishment of a consent-based process for selecting sites for storage and disposal facilities.
The proposal incorporates many of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which concluded its evaluation of the nation’s waste management program in January 2012.
The four senators are seeking comments on provisions of the bill by May 25.
The Midwest is home to four shut-down reactors that would be among the sites to ship priority waste to a pilot storage facility: Big Rock Point in Michigan, La Crosse and Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and the Zion plant in Illinois. CSG’s Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Committee is working with the DOE to plan and prepare for shipments from these sites to meet the 2021 milestone for the pilot storage facility.
Article written by Lisa Janairo, staff liaison for CSG Midwest’s Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Committee, which includes representatives from the executive and legislative branches of government in 12 Midwestern states. The committee’s co-chairs are Major Lance Evans of the Iowa Department of Transportation and Jane Beetem of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.