Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Domenici Introduces Yucca Mountain Bill

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) today introduced legislation designed to enhance the management and disposal of used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs at a geologic repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.

According to handouts at a press briefing Domenici held this morning, the bill:

  • authorizes the Department of Energy to permanently withdraw 147,000 acres for purposes related to used fuel storage, in addition to land required for rail transportation
  • repeals the 70,000-metric-ton statutory limit on emplacement of radioactive material at Yucca Mountain (the capacity of the mountain should be determined by scientific and technical analysis)
  • gives DOE authority to begin construction of infrastructure for the repository and surface storage facilities as soon as DOE completes an environmental impact statement that evaluates these activities
  • requires DOE to issue contracts for used fuel and high-level waste acceptance by DOE from new nuclear plants no later than 25 years after the new nuclear plant begins commercial operation
  • takes the Nuclear Waste Fund “off budget”
  • requires the NRC to consider the provisions of this legislation and DOE's obligation to develop a repository as grounds for "waste confidence" with regard to building new nuclear plants.
  • The bill also requires DOE to file for a license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a surface storage facility at the Nevada Test Site at the same time it files its application for a construction authorization for a repository at Yucca Mountain.

    The licensing of the storage facility would be carried out under NRC’s storage regulations (10 CFR Part 72). As soon as DOE receives the license for the surface storage facilities from the NRC, DOE may begin moving defense fuel and waste to the Nevada Test Site. According to Domenici, this accelerates defense fuel and waste shipments by a full 88 months, as compared to waiting for the repository to be licensed under DOE’s current schedule.

    As a policy matter, under the Domenici bill, commercial used fuel can be moved to the licensed storage facility only after DOE receives the construction authorization for the repository. According to Domenici, this accelerates commercial used fuel shipments, as compared to waiting for the repository to be operational. The exisiting requirement that nothing be placed underground in the repository until DOE receives the repository operating license remains in place.

    In addition, DOE is limited in moving only “legacy” commercial fuel to Yucca Mountain. Legacy fuel is defined as fuel that the Secretary of Energy determines is not eligible for recycling under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), based on recycling capacity.

    "This measure provides DOE with the authorities needed to execute the Yucca Mountain project, and to begin long-term emplacement, while the GNEP program will reduce the volume of material to be emplaced in the mountain, eliminating the need for a second repository program," Domenici said at the press briefing.

    NEI President and CEO Skip Bowman called the legislation "a positive step forward," adding:

    "The provisions contained in this legislative proposal will help achieve the opening of the state-of-the-art repository planned for Yucca Mountain and allow for more timely movement of defense waste and civilian used fuel. This will help fulfill our duty to future generations to be responsible environmental stewards. Although the federal government is investigating used-fuel recycling, there will be some byproducts of the nuclear energy cycle that require geologic disposal. This makes the timely commencement of operations near the Yucca Mountain repository imperative."

    UPDATE: Click here for Sen. Domenici's speech on the Senate floor, and here for a news release from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    Technorati tags: Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Power, Environment, Energy, Politics, Technology, Economics, Yucca Mountain, Dominici, Used Nuclear Fuel

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