Here is a transcript of the testimony from yesterday’s hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. The intent of the hearing was to discuss energy R&D, and mostly concerned that issue, but with DOE Secretary Steven Chu present, several of the Senators let their displeasure known about the scaling back of Yucca Mountain. This is the exchange between John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chu.
We pick up after Sen. McCain established that solar energy will not exceed providing 15% or so of electricity production by 2015.
Chu: I agree with that in the short term.
McCain: Is it true that a Department of Energy spokeswoman told Bloomburg [News] that President Obama and you, quote, have been emphatic that nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period.
Chu: That’s true.
McCain: That’s a true statement. So now we’re going to have spent nuclear fuel sitting around in pools all over America - also tell the nuclear power industry that we have no way of either reprocessing or storing spent nuclear fuel around America and we expect nuclear power to be an integral part of this nation’s energy future. What’s wrong with Yucca Mountain, Dr. Chu?
Chu: We have learned a lot more in the last 20-25 years since Yucca Mountain -
McCain: I know that. What is wrong with Yucca Mountain, Dr. Chu?
Chu: I think we can do a better job and - .
Chu: Going to your original question about what to do with the spent fuel, the nuclear regulatory agency has said that we can solidify the waste at the current sites and store it without risk to the environment. And so while we do that -
McCain: Has any nuclear power plants made plans to begin solidification of the nuclear waste?
Chu: Yes. There are solidification plans going on today.
McCain: There are plans going on? Are there any plans for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel?
Chu: I support reprocessing research. I think it’s an important part of the nuclear -
McCain: Why would we need research when we know that the Europeans and the Japanese are already doing it in a safe and efficient fashion?
Chu: I believe the Europeans and the Japanese are doing it but they’re doing it that lends to a risk of nuclear proliferation. The Japanese have already said -
McCain: And you balance that risk of proliferation versus spent nuclear fuel sitting around in pools in nuclear power plants all over the country and telling industry that we may do some research on reprocessing.
Chu: Let’s separate the issues -
McCain: I don’t think they’re separable. I think they’re inextricably tied because it’s clear that industry today is not interested in construction of nuclear power plants because we have no place to store it and we have refused to adopt what is already a proven technology of reprocessing.
Chu: The interim storage of waste – the solidification of waste – is something we can do today. The NRC has said that it can be done safely. That buys us time to formulate a comprehensive plan in how we deal with the nuclear waste. The recycling which I think in the long term is very beneficial - it has the potential for greatly reducing the amount of waste - is something that we have to press on. But the time scale of the recycling development is different - we have a couple of decades quite frankly in my opinion to figure that one out.
McCain: I couldn’t disagree more strongly, Doctor. But I certainly have the greatest respect and admiration for your work and your knowledge and background. Nuclear energy has got to be an integral and vital part of America’s energy future if we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And to say after 20 years and $9 billion spent on Yucca Mountain that there’s not an option, period, to me is a remarkable statement.
No comment. Sen. McCain did not move on to ask about clean coal, as his initial comment above might indicate; he did express disappointment with the cap-and-trade program as proposed by the Obama administration.
You can listen to the whole hearing here. Move the slider over to about the 55 minute mark to pick up the McCain-Chu exchange.
Senator John McCain and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.