Skip to main content

Yucca Mountain And Political Will

hastings Ever since Energy Secretary Steven Chu set about closing Yucca Mountain, Congress members have been handing DOE staff – and Chu – considerable grief for the decision at virtually every hearing since then. So the recent decision that the used fuel repository’s license application cannot be withdrawn from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems a kind of vindication, reasserting Congressional will – the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 that, via a 1987 amendment, designated Yucca Mountain as the used fuel repository – over an executive decision.

Drawing the lines between branches of government is, of course, a perpetual issue in American governance, but this decision seems clear cut: the Act and its amendment were passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan. Closing Yucca Mountain means overturning or further amending the Act – and no one seems eager to do either.

So if Congress does feel vindicated, why not press the point?

Some 91 members of Congress on Tuesday called on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to halt the dismantling of the high-level nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The lawmakers, 67 of whom are Republicans, told Chu in a letter that they "are deeply  troubled" that the US Department of Energy is continuing to move forward with its plan to terminate the Yucca Mountain project despite recent actions by … the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

67 Republicans might feel like mischief, but those 24 Democrats provide a hefty bipartisan spirit. The Platts story notes this, but inflects it differently than we would:

All 91 lawmakers who signed the letter represent states that have nuclear power or DOE nuclear facilities with high-level defense waste stored on site.

That might make you think a fairly low number of states are represented by the letter, but in fact it includes 35 states. It’s hard to suggest a Congressperson represents a “nuclear state.” When you include businesses that provide materials and services for nuclear power plants (for example, New Mexico’s new uranium enrichment plant), every state is a nuclear state, one way or another.

---

Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Secretary Chu:

We write today to request that the Department of Energy immediately halt all actions to dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain at least until legal action regarding the withdrawal of the application is resolved by the DC Circuit Court and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The DC Circuit Court has taken the important step of approving the motion to expedite legal actions and has combined the cases involving the State of Washington, State of South Carolina, Aiken County, and Tri-Cities, Washington community leaders. This is a clear demonstration by the Court that the merits of the case must be heard and ruled upon prior to further action by the Department of Energy to shut down Yucca Mountain.

On June 29, 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied the Department's motion to withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain, a clear statement that the Department does not have the authority under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to unilaterally terminate Yucca Mountain.

In light of the recent legal and regulatory actions, we are deeply troubled that the Department continues to move forward with terminating the project regardless of this decision. We are also concerned that the Department is using its budget proposal in an attempt to justify the termination of Yucca Mountain.

As you know, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca Mountain as the only candidate site for the national repository. Congressional intent is clear - Congress has voted several times to retain Yucca Mountain as the national repository. We are deeply disappointed that DOE has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain.

We ask that you recognize the letter and spirit of the law, honor the timeline set by the court, and halt all efforts to reprogram funds or terminate contracts related to Yucca Mountain.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely, etc.

You can find a complete list of the signatories and a pdf copy of the letter here. This is Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) site. She and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) initiated the letter.

Rep. Doc Hastings rather surprisingly shaves off his beard regularly and equally regularly grows it back – not standard “brand” management, but perhaps Hasting doesn’t need it or care - the beard somehow seems right for a man named Doc.

Comments

DocForesight said…
"67 Republicans might feel like mischief..." -- seems like a rather interesting formulation. Could it be that those representatives actually support what NEI supports - more nuclear power plants - and believe that acts of Congress and the separation of powers actually ought to be abided by?

Now let's see both parties endorse, in word and in deed, reviving alternative reactor designs that can extract multiples of more power from the "used fuel" and leave a fraction of the true "waste" for long-term storage.
Joffan said…
The correct split for party allegiance is 14 Democrats and 77 Republicans. The split between houses of Congress was 67 Representatives and 24 Senators - no doubt the "Rep" was misinterpreted at some stage.

Even so - and indeed even if only one member of Congress had raised the issue - stopping Yucca's reprository prior to changing the law is simply the wrong way round to do things. And as far as I have heard there is not even an outline timetable to change the law at present.
Tom said…
Chu should restart the IFR project and start building of a demonstration plant immediately. That's the silver bullet.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …