Bill would allow for storage of spent nuclear fuel at Nevada site, if policy is amended
By Eric Heinz
Although this isn’t the be-all, end-all piece of legislation that would ensure spent nuclear fuel could be moved to another location other than San Onofre, it’s a major step in the process.
On Thursday, May 10, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would reestablish Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste holding facility and allow for licensing to take place, create a program for temporary storage of the fuel and holds the Department of Energy accountable for such actions, as it is the federal branch responsible for all spent nuclear fuel.
Facilities such as San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which currently holds more than 1,600 tons of radioactive fuel rods, would be eligible for storage of such waste at Yucca Mountain.
The bill, H.R. 3053, was championed by Republican Rep. John Shimkus, IL-15, and co-sponsored by San Clemente’s Republican Congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa.
“Today’s bipartisan House passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act is an important step forward in moving nuclear waste out of local communities,” Issa, CA-49, stated in a press release. “The federal government must keep its commitment to safely dispose of nuclear waste and this proposal will put us back on track to advance to a long-term permanent site as well as more immediate interim options.”
Issa has another bill that is of his own design that would amend Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) to allow for temporary storage until the federal government finds or establishes a permanent repository.
As of today, spent nuclear fuel cannot be stored in temporary locations due to provisions in the NWPA.
The bill would also give the secretary of the DOE the ability to prioritize facilities that currently house the fuel or construct a new site if it’s financially prudent.
This is not a decision likely to sit well with Nevada. It was then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, who pushed for the closure of the site in 2010 after it was de-funded by the Legislature.
A concession buried in the new bill’s text is that the secretary of the DOE needs to find a way to avoid transporting the spent nuclear waste through Las Vegas to Yucca Mountain.
The incident of faulty steam generators didn’t take place at SONGS until 2012 and the power plant wasn’t announced closed until 2013.
The bill’s vote, which passed with 340 representatives in favor and 72 against, included all three representatives (two Democrats and one Republican) from Nevada voting no.
Representatives from New Mexico, where the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is located were split with Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, NM-3, voting in favor and Democrats Rep. Ben Ray, NM-2 and Michelle Lujan Grisham, NM-1, voting against.
The bill will have to be scrutinized by a Republican-heavy Senate that has pushed for storage of spent nuclear fuel since President Donald Trump took office and put a $120 million price tag on finding solutions for storing the fuel.