Senate Energy & Water Appropriations bill would open high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps, launch large-scale Mobile Chernobyl program
As reported by the New York Times and The Hill, the Energy & Water Appropriations bill (H.R.2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016) passed the U.S. Senate today, by a vote of 90 to 8.
As AP reported: The legislation includes a pilot program to allow storage of nuclear waste at private facilities, such as one proposed in western Texas...
The legislation would fund a pilot program to relocate radioactive waste from shuttered nuclear power plants to a storage site near Midland, Texas. The project would provide a partial solution as lawmakers try to resolve a decades-old dispute over storing nuclear waste at a repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Yucca site has never opened amid fierce opposition from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other lawmakers.
(Thus, nuclear power industry lobbyists have prevailed in getting what they want included, while emergency relief for Flint, Michigan amidst its drinking water lead poisoning catastrophe was left out. This, despite the best efforts of Michigan's U.S. Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters (both Democrats), due to a hold placed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Learn more about Flint's cautionary tale vis-a-vis radioactive waste in Beyond Nuclear's article in Counterpunch, "After Flint, Don't Let Them Nuke the Great Lakes Next!")
A blog by Marc Boom, Associate Director of Government Affairs at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned that "Senate Energy and Water Bill [is] Not as Non-Controversial as Claimed."
For example, the bill contains a provision that authorizes a new pilot program to allow the Department of Energy to store nuclear waste at private facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is an unwise approach to one of the most contentious issues of American politics—nuclear waste—without any of the comprehensive work necessary for a full reform of the nation’s nuclear waste laws. Simply, this provision removes meaningful motivation and impetus for adherence to the long standing principle that the nation’s nuclear waste must be buried in deep geologic repositories, permanently isolated from the human and natural environments. We urge the controversial provision be removed.
In fact, NRDC has led opposition to so-called "centralized" or "consolidated interim storage" un-linked to permament geologic disposal. Way back in 2012 and 2013, NRDC's senior nuclear attorney, Geoff Fettus, testified at U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee hearings on radioactive waste management, about the importance of maintaining that linkage, lest "centralized interim storage" become de facto permanent surface storage, or parking lot dumps.
The ENR Committee Chairman in 2012, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), got it. De-linking "centralized interim storage" and permanent disposal did not happen on his watch. The risks of "centralized interim storage" becoming de facto permanent parking lot dumps, for lack of a permanent repository, was too great. New Mexico being targeted for so-called "centralized interim storage" -- at Eddy-Lea Counties, in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, near the DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) -- made that risk all too real to allow to happen.
Alas, such wisdom is not prevailing in the U.S. Senate now, as pro-nuclear U.S. Senators seek to do the bidding of the nuclear power industry's lobbyists.
Also see an overview of the bill's current status.
A congressional summary, posted online, describes Section 306 thus:
(Sec. 306) Authorizes DOE to conduct a pilot program with private sector partners to license, construct, and operate one or more storage facilities to provide interim storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Permits the Nuclear Waste Fund to be used for this purpose, subject to appropriations.
That same summary describes Section 311 this way:
(Sec. 311) Permits DOD [sic, should read DOE] to: (1) enter into contracts to store spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to which DOE holds the title or has a contract to accept title, and (2) enter into new contracts or modify existing contracts to accept title for high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel.
Regarding funding for "centralized interim storage," the bill reads:
For Department of Energy expenses including the purchase, construction, and acquisition of plant and capital equipment, and other expenses necessary for nuclear energy activities in carrying out the purposes of the Department of Energy Organization Act (42 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.), including the acquisition or condemnation of any real property or any facility or for plant or facility acquisition, construction, or expansion, and the purchase of no more than three emergency service vehicles for replacement only, $1,057,903,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That of such amount, the Secretary of Energy may obligate up to $10,000,000 under existing authorities, for contracting for the management of used nuclear fuel to which the Secretary holds the title or has a contract to accept title: Provided further, That of such amount, $80,000,000 shall be available until September 30, 2018, for program direction. (emphasis added)
DOE has "standard contracts" to "accept title" to all commercial irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S. (Incredibly, this includes for the high-level radioactive waste at proposed new reactors, such as Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and Summer 2 & 3 in SC, if their increasingly behind schedule and over budget construction projects should ever be completed, and the reactors ever actually operate. Between Election Day 2008 and Inauguration Day 2009 (early Nov. 2008 to mid-Jan. 2009), as the Obama administration was entering office, the George W. Bush DOE hastily -- even sloppily -- signed "standard contracts" with nuclear utilities to take ultimate responsibility for irradiated nuclear fuel to be generated by a large number of proposed new reactors. Most of these proposed new reactors, thankfully, have since been cancelled, so hopefully will never be built, and never generate high-level radioactive waste.)
But in U.S. Senate Energy & Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) Report accompanying H.R. 2028, different funding levels are cited:
The Committee recommends $30,000,000 for used nuclear fuel disposition to implement sections 306 and 311. Within this amount, funds are provided for financial and technical assistance associated with a consent-based siting process, including education, technical analyses, and other support to entities considering hosting an interim storage facility; and for incentive payments to entities with signed agreements with eligible jurisdictions. (emphasis added)
(See Pages 80-81 of the PDF version of the Report posted online.)
This Senate-passed version of the Energy & Water Appropriations bill now goes to a conference committee with the U.S. House, in order to try to reach a reconciled version. That final bill -- which could be different in significant ways from both the current Senate and House versions -- would then return to each House of Congress for final passage, and then would become law with President Obama's signature.
A most interesting impasse regarding radioactive waste, between the House and Senate, is the demand by U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and U.S. House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), that any radioactive waste management program include the Yucca Mountain, Nevada dump.
But Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid from Nevada, is adamantly opposed. Reid has led opposition to the Yucca dump since the 1987 "Screw Nevada" bill targeted his state in the first place. In 2010, Reid helped secure the Obama administration's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain Project. Reid has also played the lead role in slashing, or entirely zeroing out, Yucca's budget, for well over a decade, ever since attaining his position as Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate.
Upton and Shimkus have pledged not to support parking lot dumps, unless the Yucca dump is included. Reid will oppose the Yucca dump with all his might.
Whether the Yucca dump is opened, or one or more regional parking lot dumps (as at Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, Texas; Eddy-Lea Counties, near WIPP in New Mexico; other DOE sites, such as Savannah River Site, South Carolina; Native American reservations, yet to be named; or even nuclear power plants, such as Dresden in Morris, Illinois), it would launch unprecedented numbers of shipments of high-level radioactive waste onto the roads, rails, and/or waterways: Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, Dirty Bombs on Wheels.
You can learn more about high-level radioactive waste transporation risks at the following sources:
NIRS Stop Fukushima Freeways! website section;
NIRS Mobile Chernobyl website section;
State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Nuclear Waste Transportation website section;
Beyond Nuclear Radioactive Waste Transporation website section.
What You Can Do:
Please take action. Urge your U.S. Representative, and your two U.S. Senators, to block the opening of the Yucca dump, of one or more parking lot dumps, and the consequent launching of Mobile Chernobyls. (Most Members of Congress have Webforms on their Websites, where you can submit written comments. Most Member offices also provide FAX numbers. You can also write letters at the addresses providedn at those Websites, and/or call your Members of Congress, via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, at (202) 224-3121.) Also contact President Obama, and urge the same.