A bill being prepared in Congress seeks to put Yucca Mountain back on the table as lawmakers try to break a gridlock over managing and disposing the nation’s nuclear waste.
On Feb. 5, Steve Tetreault of the Stephens Media Washington D.C. Bureau, reported in the Las Vegas-Review Journal, “the chairman of a Senate energy panel announced he plans to focus on nuclear energy this year, including a bid to end an impasse on nuclear was created when the Yucca Mountain repository was terminated”
The article said, “Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, told a nuclear industry audience he would convene a series of hearings on nuclear power as the new leader of the Senate energy and water subcommittee.”
In January, the Review-Journal reported, “Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said legislation he is writing could be ready for House floor votes by the summer. He said details still were being formed. Nuclear industry officials familiar with the effort say it could include financial incentives for Nevada to drop its long-held opposition to the once-proposed repository, provisions to complete a site license review and to obtain land needed to advance the project.”
The article noted, “Edward Davis, president of the Pegasus Group, a consulting firm, said Jan. 12 at a conference sponsored by the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management he was told the Yucca legislation was “one of the top three or four priorities” of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this year.
But at the same conference, Energy Department assistant secretary Peter Lyons said the Obama administration remains opposed to the Yucca site, calling it “unworkable.”
“We need to work toward new solutions,” Lyons said, but needs Congress to change the law so alternatives can be explored.
Here locally, Lincoln County Nuclear Oversight Program Coordinator Connie Simkins said, “Active subcommittee hearings are being scheduled in both the House and the Senate relative to providing funding to complete the Yucca Mountain studies. Where that will go politically or fiscally, I have no idea. However, it does seem there is more interest in opening it now than there was before the (November) elections.” But she did not know if talks in Congress would deal with using Yucca as an interim storage place or a permanent repository that’s retrievable.”
She added, if it is reopened, “I am sure it can be done safely scientifically. At the moment, it’s a political decision by the current administration. Our (Nevada) Congressional leaders have said they are opposed to it and our state leaders have said the same.”
A Jan. 29, 2015 press release from the office of Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the top Senate Republican on energy appropriations issues, noted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued their safety evaluation of the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
He said, “Today’s report settles it: To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science. This report says that Yucca Mountain would meet all of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s performance requirements for safe operation. Combined with previous reports, the science is clear that Yucca Mountain would meet all safety required related to radiation. There is no reason Congress shouldn’t make Yucca Mountain part of the solutions to end the stalemate on nuclear waste – paving the way for nuclear power to be a larger source of clean, cheap, reliable electricity we need to power our 21st-century economy.”
The January Review-Journal article noted, “Rep. Shimkus, whose state generates the most electricity from nuclear power and holds the most nuclear waste at six power stations, is regarded as the leading proponent of reviving the Yucca Mountain program that was mothballed five years ago by President Barack Obama. He is chairman of the House environment and the economy subcommittee.
When it comes to Yucca Mountain, “we can move almost anything on the House floor and I think have a pretty good vote,” Shimkus said. Test votes in recent years showed better than two-to-one support for the project even though it largely exists only on paper after being dismantled.
Shimkus and other Yucca proponents say Obama effectively threw out 30 years of studies and $15 billion of development work at the Nevada site. Critics charge the project was forced on Nevada and the site is unsafe and risky.”
Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, remains the leading opponent of Yucca Mountain and has long said Yucca Mountain will never become a reality as long as he is a Senator.
At the same time, Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and James Inhofe, R-OK, who both chair other energy related committees, have said they plan to put nuclear waste issues on their upcoming agendas.
The Review-Journal article quoted Rep. Shimkus as saying, “You don’t have a majority leader (referring to Reid in the Senate), that obviously kind of bans all discussion. That’s the difference, at least there can be some discussion.”
Sen. Alexander is known to be one of the leading advocates of nuclear energy in the U.S. Senate.
The state of Tennessee does have three nuclear power plants which are operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and generate 36 percent of the state’s electricity needs.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was built during WWII as part of the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb, and is home today to the vast Oak Ridge National Laboratory.