How Congress Goes Nuclear by James Conca

I haven’t done this for a long time. I’m not in the habit of posting an entire article. This one is from Forbes 4/28/2012 @ 11:09PM and when I find something this important that might get a better chance of being read on my own site I post it. I have given credit to the author and website.

Congress Goes Nuclear by James Conca
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So much for the notion that Congress can’t do anything right. The thoughtful and smart actions of Senators Murkowski and Landrieu, working with Senators Feinstein, Alexander and Bingaman, produced a bill out of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee last Tuesday, approved Thursday by the full Committee, that took the first step to solving our nation’s nuclear waste problem. I’ve been waiting my entire career for this to happen. In fact, this first step is so significant that I’m having trouble catching my breath!

If you remember, the Yucca Mountain Project, the nation’s first selected nuclear disposal site, was recently scrapped for being not workable and the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was appointed to find another path forward. After reviewing the last 60 years of frustrated science and policy, in February the BRC released a number of very good recommendations addressing nuclear in general, but three specific ones were critical to actually dealing with high-level nuclear waste and managing spent nuclear fuel for the next hundred years. They were:

1) executing interim storage for spent nuclear fuel, 2) resuming the site selection process for a second repository (Yucca being the first, the massive salts being the best), and 3) forming a quasi-government entity, or FedCorp, to execute the program and take control of the Nuclear Waste Fund in order to do so.

The first recommendation separates fuel from real waste, allowing storage of still-usable spent nuclear fuel from reactor sites either to be used in future reactors or eventually disposed, without needing to retrieve it from deep in the earth as is presently the Law. The second recommendation allows us to choose the best geology for the permanent disposal of actual high-level waste that has no value since it is the waste from reprocessing old fuel. This real waste needs to be disposed of promptly, not just looked at for another few decades. It has cost billions to manage this waste in places that were always meant to be temporary. The third recommendation controls cost and administration, because, duh, we’re broke.

Dry cask storage behind a security fence. The safest, easiest method for putting spent fuel aside until used, burned as new fuel or eventually disposed of in a deep geologic repository.

Tuesday’s bill starts the ball rolling by implementing the first recommendation, authorizing “the Secretary of Energy to site, construct, and operate consolidated storage facilities to provide storage as needed for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.” – IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES—112th Cong., 2d Sess.

The short version is this bill is consent-based, meaning the Feds can’t just pick a site and force it down a State’s throat, but have to wait for someone to bid for it and requires approval of the Governor, any affected Tribes, and the local representatives of that State. Plus, it authorizes the Nuclear Waste Fund to be used for what it always was intended. And DOE has only 120 days from passage to begin accepting proposals so it won’t languish for years. This bill breaks the nuclear waste logjam. It’s simple, it’s the right thing to do, it will save lots of money, it’s the best thing for the environment, and it’s a win-win, so how did the Senate do this? And so fast!

Now it’s up to the House to maintain the do-nothing image of Congress, kill this bill, and let us get back to wasting billions of dollars looking at the problem for 30 more years.

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