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Bipartisan Nuclear Waste Bill Moves Forward in Committee

Senators Urge Swift Action to Secure and Permanently Dispose of Radioactive Nuclear Waste

Washington – A bipartisan bill to break the gridlock and establish a comprehensive policy for safely disposing of spent nuclear fuel took a step forward today, in a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, collaborated on the proposal.

At the hearing, Feinstein and other senators underscored the urgency of finally adopting a lasting policy on nuclear waste – more than 30 years since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act became law. 

“The byproducts of nuclear energy represent some of the nation’s most hazardous materials, but for decades we have failed to find a solution for their safe storage and permanent disposal,” Feinstein said. "The Nuclear Waste Administration Act would finally establish a comprehensive nuclear waste policy to address the highly radioactive waste being stored in communities across the country. This issue is too important for politics as usual, which is why I’m proud to join Senators Wyden, Alexander and Murkowski in introducing this bill.”

“Simply continuing to pass the burden of safely disposing of nuclear waste to future generations is not an option – whether it is at a shuttered nuclear power plant or in tanks along the Columbia River,” Wyden said. “Our goal with this legislation is to get the permanent repository program back on track and to make sure spent fuel and nuclear defense waste is handled safely until it is.”

“The legislation that we have put forward is an attempt to jump-start the government’s responsibilities on the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle and achieve real progress. It sets an aggressive time frame to get a waste facility up and operating to assure stakeholders and the American taxpayer that the federal government is serious about meeting its obligations,” Murkowski said. “The federal government’s breach of contract has cost nearly $3 billion so far and is likely to grow upward of $20 billion if it fails to accept used fuel by 2020.”

“Our legislation makes local, state and federal governments equal partners in the process of finding temporary and permanent storage for nuclear waste, which is critical since nuclear power provides 60 percent of our reliable, clean electricity,” Alexander said. “This idea of giving local governments a voice served Tennessee well when I was governor and I was trying to figure out where to build prisons. Now, instead of the federal government telling local and state governments where to locate nuclear waste facilities, we’re giving them a chance to compete for these facilities and the jobs that come with them – and breaking 25 years of stalemate in the process.”

Currently fuel rods are stored on-site at dozens of commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including areas that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. Millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons programs are also being stored at Department of Energy sites around the country.

The bill implements the recommendations of the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. It establishes a new nuclear waste administration and creates a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities. It also enables the federal government to fulfill its commitment to managing commercial nuclear waste, limiting the costly government liability for failing to dispose of commercial spent fuel. The storage and repository system established by this legislation will expand opportunities for nuclear power to supply low-carbon energy and provide long-term protection of public health and safety for both commercial and defense high-level waste.

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