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senate Bill S. 1234

Should an Independent ‘Nuclear Waste Administration’ Be Established to Manage the Storage of America’s Nuclear Waste?

Argument in favor

The storage of nuclear waste in the U.S. is a growing problem because the lack of a permanent repository means waste has to be stored at sites located in 35 states across the country. Establishing an independent agency at the Dept. of Energy will help ensure that the federal government finally fulfills its legal obligation to come up with a nuclear waste storage solution.

jimK's Opinion
···
10/26/2019
I agree with Rebekah that there is a great danger in appointing anyone to this role who is neither qualified nor truly motivated to do the job. It is another ‘what has trump wrought?’ concern. Anyone filling this role should be fully vetted and have non-partisan support. This is a National problem that warrants clear management. It is a tough issue; Ignoring it only makes the issue tougher. Managing spent fuel is a long-term problem that must be dealt with by having a long-term focus. Most politicians just want to kick the can down the road until someone else has to deal with it. Finding safe repository sites to collect the increasingly hazardous spent fuel dumps around most reactors is imperative. I believe having an 'administrator' to focus on finding permanent storage methods, sites and transport protocols is the only way to keep reminding Congress of it's obligations to protect our people from hazardous growing waste stockpiles that are getting too large to safely manage. I support this. I am a little concerned about relying on private interests to deal with this but agree it should be an option. Yucca mountain should be re-visited as well as other central repositories along with a highly regulated safe and reliable site-to-site transport protocol.
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eatherich's Opinion
···
10/26/2019
Make it federally regulated. We cannot trust private companies to care about this if it doesn’t have to do with their profit.
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···
10/26/2019
My question is this: why do we have a carefully considered, time -consuming bipartisan bill developed 16 years ago, using the best scientific and governmental minds and experience available waiting this long to be voted on and passed? The legislators involved in this process have had plenty of time to gain sufficient experience and to have examined all the pros and cons of this situation, and they are recommending passage of this act. Surely, we cannot doubt that these elected officials have done their due diligence in 16 years? These are respected lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, and they have committed their time and attention to meet this urgent need. They have my full and complete support. No bill is perfect, but this one has been carefully designed to address all of the currently known concerns. Please vote to support this important bill!🇺🇸
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Argument opposed

Experience has shown that a federally-controlled, centrally planned nuclear waste disposal program doesn’t work. Rather than relying on the federal government to deal with nuclear waste, we should look to the nuclear industry itself to deal with this problem as part of its business.

Rebekah 's Opinion
···
10/26/2019
No. Putting this critical issue under the control of an appointed industry lobbyist would be a disaster, just as putting a career polluter in charge of the EPA, a Big Oil executive in charge of the Dept of Energy, a Verizon executive in charge of the FCC, and a billionaire neophyte in charge of the Dept of Education has been.
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Colin's Opinion
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10/26/2019
Stop wasting taxpayer’s money on creating a redundant government department. Isn’t this the responsibility of the department on energy??
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operaman's Opinion
···
10/26/2019
Clearing my brains for this difficult question. The DOE has many functions, but of those, the proper disposal of nuclear materials. Should I mention Yucca Valley? Billions of dollars to build that facility and it remains the center of environmental lawsuits. I, therefore, wish to know how another new Department will accomplish nuclear waste disposal when the DOE failed. Just another expansion of government and Federal Payroll.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
    IntroducedApril 30th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 1234?

This bill would establish an independent agency known as the Nuclear Waste Administration (NWA) to manage the storage of nuclear waste instead of the Dept. of Energy (DOE). The NWA would be headed by an administrator selected by the president and subject to Senate confirmation, and this bill would also establish siting processes for storage facilities and repositories. 

The NWA would be directed to: 

  • Build a pilot storage facility to hold spent fuel from decommissioned nuclear power plants and emergency shipments from operating plants; and
  • Build consolidated storage facilities for non-priority spent fuel for utilities or defense wastes for DOE on a temporary basis.

The NWA administrator would be authorized to begin siting a pilot storage facility for priority waste immediately, and there wouldn’t be a volume restriction on storage at the facility. For 10 years following this bill’s enactment, the NWA administrator could continue to site new storage facilities for non-priority waste as long as funds have been obligated to carry out a parallel repository program. For 10 years after this bill’s enactment, the NWA administrator could site new storage facilities only if at least one site has been selected for evaluation as a potential location for a permanent repository.

This bill would establish a new working capital fund, the Nuclear Waste Fund, within the U.S. Treasury into which fees collected from utilities would be deposited. Funds would be available to the NWA without further appropriation, and fees already collected would remain in the Nuclear Waste Fund, where they’d continue to be subject to appropriation.

The Secretary of Energy would be authorized to revisit the decision to commingle defense waste with commercial spent fuel. Should the Secretary of Energy determine that separate waste facilities are necessary or appropriate for efficiently managing defense wastes, the NWA administrator may site, construct, and operate one or more facilities for that purpose in accordance with the siting-concurrence process in this bill.

Impact

Nuclear waste; nuclear waste storage and disposal; Dept. of Energy (DOE); Nuclear Waste Administration (NWA); NWA administrator; and the Secretary of Energy.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1234

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSenate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reintroduced this bill to safeguard and permanently dispose of the nation’s stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel from sites across the country:

“As we make the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors a reality, it is also time to end our country’s stalemate on nuclear waste. Our bipartisan legislation will ensure the federal government finally fulfills its obligation to address the back-end of the fuel cycle. I thank my colleagues for once again coming together to lead on this important issue, and look forward to holding a hearing on this legislation in the near future.”

Original cosponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) adds that the federal government has a responsibility to safely store nuclear waste

“The federal government has a responsibility to safely store nuclear waste and the surest way to make progress now is by finding sites that have the consent of their states and local communities. Our bill embodies the expert recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for developing interim storage facilities and long-term repositories to consolidate the spent nuclear fuel that today is scattered across the country. After years of inaction, it’s time to finally take action to solve the issue of where to safely store our nuclear waste.”

Maria Korsnick, President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), testified on this bill to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 27, 2019. Korsnick noted that the nuclear energy developments since this bill’s first introduction in 2013 have made federal government action on nuclear waste storage even more pressing now than they were six years ago: 

“Since this bill was first introduced in 2013, several things have changed. Because of a court order, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has reduced the Nuclear Waste Fund fee to zero. That notwithstanding, the Nuclear Waste Fund now has a balance of more than $41 billion and each year more than $1.5 billion in interest is added to the principal. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) technical staff has also completed safety and environmental reviews of the Yucca Mountain license application, concluding that Yucca Mountain complies with all regulations. A final Yucca Mountain decision, however, awaits an extensive formal hearing, which requires further appropriations. Finally, private initiatives are now underway to develop consolidated storage facilities in two states. These developments all put squarely before Congress the obvious and pressing need to revitalize the federal used nuclear fuel program, including providing direction to move the Yucca Mountain application forward and support private consolidated interim storage facilities. Used nuclear fuel is stored safely and securely at sites in 35 states. But onsite storage was intended to be temporary until the federal government meets its legal obligation to develop a permanent solution. Action by the federal government is long overdue. The failure of the federal government to implement the statutorily required used fuel management program has given the industry a black eye for far too long despite the fact that nuclear generation provides more than half of the nation’s carbon-free electricity. Further, there are many advanced reactor designs being developed that can usefully be deployed in the U.S. in the near future to meet our clean energy needs. Burdening these promising technologies with the weight of a floundering federal used fuel management program unnecessarily and unreasonably limits the tools we have to combat climate change at a time when we need every carbon-free generation option available.”

While she expressed support for this bill, Korsnick suggested that the new management organization this bill would create be structured as a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation, rather than a federal agency

“To achieve greater separation from political election cycles than has been the case with DOE’s program, NEI suggests that the new management organization be structured as a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation rather than a federal agency. This would alleviate many of the political uncertainties associated with presidential appointments so that the organization can focus on performing the task at hand with the requisite attention to nuclear safety and security. Instead of a presidentially appointed Administrator, we suggest that the new organization have a chief executive officer hired by a board of directors. The board should be required to include directors from contract holders and public utility commissions, and should serve more than an advisory function. Numerous studies of the management issue carried out over the past decades consistently advocate for a management entity with a corporate structure to provide continuity, efficiency, and an appropriate degree of insulation from political influences.” 

Writing for the Heritage Foundation in 2015, Jack Spencer, then-Vice President of the Institute for Economic Freedom, and Katie Tubb, then a Senior Policy Analyst at Heritage, argued that this bill “would only further delay and frustrate solutions to waste management and disposal”

“The Nuclear Waste Administration Act does not solve fundamental problems in the current approach; it continues, if not expands, the dysfunction of waste management during the past 30 years. Most notably, it gives the perception of progress by transferring the Department of Energy’s (DOE) responsibilities for management to a new government entity. Simply re-assigning responsibility to another federal bureaucracy does nothing to fix the root problem—namely that the federal government is responsible for commercial nuclear waste management and disposal rather than the industry itself. Experience has shown that a federally controlled, centrally planned program for commercial nuclear fuel management does not work. Subjecting what should be a commercial activity to an endless political process has resulted in stunted technological growth, economic incoherence, and programmatic stagnation. Even if the current approach of federal waste management were acceptable, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act fails to address the requirements for a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, put forth by Congress in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended. It instead incorporates the Obama Administration’s shortsighted policy. Ultimately, the bill relieves economic pressure and political responsibility from the government in the short term by establishing temporary storage sites. Such an approach weakens the prospect of the permanent nuclear waste repository the nation needs. Rather than a problem or liability, nuclear waste management has the potential to be an asset—but only if Congress reforms the current broken system with market forces to spur competition and innovation… The Nuclear Waste Administration Act is inherently political, from the presidentially appointed administration and board to the curious restriction that the Administrator’s salary not exceed that of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s chief executive officer. To pretend that these presidential appointees will not be politically driven is naïve. There is no guarantee that this system, too, will not be subject to the unpredictability of politics as Yucca Mountain has.”

Spencer and Tubb contended that this bill: 1) surrenders Congress’s power of the purse and regulatory authority on nuclear energy matters, allowing the agency that this would create to operate without adequate Congressional oversight and 2) treats nuclear waste as a bureaucratic issue, rather than as part of the nuclear energy business.

This bill has two bipartisan cosponsors, including one senator from each party. Similar legislation with introduced in the 113th and 114th (where it was sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with four bipartisan cosponsors, including three Democrats and one Republican) Congresses. The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 (at that time, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) with four bipartisan cosponsors, including two Republicans, one Democrat and one Independent) in the 113th Congress.


Of NoteThis bill’s recommendations are derived from the January 2012 recommendations of the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) is legally obligated to dispose of roughly 100,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors and high-level radioactive waste from defense nuclear operations. The department still doesn’t have a license for its preferred repository at Yucca Mountain, which has been ensnared by political opposition (and the licensing proceeding has been defunded for the better part of a decade). Currently, DOE can’t take ownership of commercial spent fuel until a permanent geological repository has been licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There are currently two corporate teams seeking Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses for facilities that could consolidate used fuel until a permanent repository is ready.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Milos Dimic)

AKA

Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2019

Official Title

A bill to establish a new organization to manage nuclear waste, provide a consensual process for siting nuclear waste facilities, ensure adequate funding for managing nuclear waste, and for other purposes.

    I agree with Rebekah that there is a great danger in appointing anyone to this role who is neither qualified nor truly motivated to do the job. It is another ‘what has trump wrought?’ concern. Anyone filling this role should be fully vetted and have non-partisan support. This is a National problem that warrants clear management. It is a tough issue; Ignoring it only makes the issue tougher. Managing spent fuel is a long-term problem that must be dealt with by having a long-term focus. Most politicians just want to kick the can down the road until someone else has to deal with it. Finding safe repository sites to collect the increasingly hazardous spent fuel dumps around most reactors is imperative. I believe having an 'administrator' to focus on finding permanent storage methods, sites and transport protocols is the only way to keep reminding Congress of it's obligations to protect our people from hazardous growing waste stockpiles that are getting too large to safely manage. I support this. I am a little concerned about relying on private interests to deal with this but agree it should be an option. Yucca mountain should be re-visited as well as other central repositories along with a highly regulated safe and reliable site-to-site transport protocol.
    Like (62)
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    No. Putting this critical issue under the control of an appointed industry lobbyist would be a disaster, just as putting a career polluter in charge of the EPA, a Big Oil executive in charge of the Dept of Energy, a Verizon executive in charge of the FCC, and a billionaire neophyte in charge of the Dept of Education has been.
    Like (36)
    Follow
    Share
    Make it federally regulated. We cannot trust private companies to care about this if it doesn’t have to do with their profit.
    Like (29)
    Follow
    Share
    Stop wasting taxpayer’s money on creating a redundant government department. Isn’t this the responsibility of the department on energy??
    Like (16)
    Follow
    Share
    My question is this: why do we have a carefully considered, time -consuming bipartisan bill developed 16 years ago, using the best scientific and governmental minds and experience available waiting this long to be voted on and passed? The legislators involved in this process have had plenty of time to gain sufficient experience and to have examined all the pros and cons of this situation, and they are recommending passage of this act. Surely, we cannot doubt that these elected officials have done their due diligence in 16 years? These are respected lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, and they have committed their time and attention to meet this urgent need. They have my full and complete support. No bill is perfect, but this one has been carefully designed to address all of the currently known concerns. Please vote to support this important bill!🇺🇸
    Like (14)
    Follow
    Share
    Clearing my brains for this difficult question. The DOE has many functions, but of those, the proper disposal of nuclear materials. Should I mention Yucca Valley? Billions of dollars to build that facility and it remains the center of environmental lawsuits. I, therefore, wish to know how another new Department will accomplish nuclear waste disposal when the DOE failed. Just another expansion of government and Federal Payroll.
    Like (11)
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    Murkowski’s voting record on environmental issues has undone any benefit from her work. By supporting Scott Pruitt for EPA, she helped undo the last decade’s worth of American climate policy. Murkowski did vote to confirm Pruitt for the post. Known before taking the job for his skeptical views about climate change, Pruitt oversaw perhaps the biggest rollback of regulations in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency, including several Obama-era regulations about cars and power plants that were designed to mitigate climate change. Pruitt also pushed #45 to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty. These have been enormous setbacks for the climate. She was the swing vote in favor of repealing the BLM methane rule This requires a little clarification: Murkowski indeed voted last year to overturn an Obama-era regulation that required oil and gas producers on public lands to prevent the escape of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about 30 times more potent in its ability to trap heat than carbon dioxide. Murkowski claimed the rule was expensive and unneeded and would cost jobs. In the end, Senate Republicans fell short on their attempt to rescind the vote. (Earlier this year, though, the Trump administration relaxed the regulation.) that would limit wasteful emissions of this super greenhouse gas. Combine that with opening the Arctic Refuge for drilling, and all the little energy efficiency bills, small local hydro systems, and far distant future nuclear plants Murkowski’s support for the GOP tax bill one year ago was secured by adding a piece of pork that she and some other Alaskans had long prized: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, allowing Alaska to extend its economy’s deep reliance on oil and to keep pushing oil out to the broader world. won’t save Alaskans from runaway warming.
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    This is a national problem and should be dealt with nationally.
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    Murkowski is not trustworthy with respect to environmental issues. She has sold out Alaskan wildlife for money. Make no mistake, that’s what this is about. This will turn into a money grab for DC cronies. The DOE should already be addressing this problem.
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    No new government departments.
    Like (5)
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    Wrong direction. We are $21 TRILLION in debt and accelerating. We badly need a reduction in government work force, i.e. elimination of departments, not the creation of new ones.
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    No! No more government agencies! The bureaucracy is large enough already and needs to be cut not expanded.
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    No way! I live in Las Vegas; 100 miles away from the “accident-waiting-to-happen”, built on top of fault lines, Yucca Mountain repository, which the Federal government has tried to open for years! No! We use no Nuclear Energy in Nevada! Let other States who use this dirty energy & the companies that profit off of this, figure out where they are going to store this long-term, deadly waste. The only thing our Federal Government needs to do is to keep the nuclear industry highly regulated and incentivize cleaner renewable energy sources. Neither of which, I’m afraid, this administration is unwilling & incapable of doing!
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    Yes. However, my yes is conditional and depends on the appointment of actual scientists from a range of sciences: geology, groundwater science, geophysicists, several physicists, and perhaps structural engineers. To name a few. Please, no political hacks.
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    That’s the job of the Department Of Energy! Why create a whole new level of beurocrocy! We must shrink government! Not grow it! They are doing just fine right now! As Europe has the most nuclear power plants in the world the manage just fine with their waste! They use private companies like Veolia from France go manage it! Veolia International has a large presence here I. The U.S. as well and they do a great job! No more federal departments!
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    No. Putting this critical issue under the control of an appointed industry lobbyist would be a disaster, just as putting a career polluter in charge of the EPA, a Big Oil executive in charge of the Dept of Energy, a Verizon executive in charge of the FCC, and a billionaire neophyte in charge of the Dept of Education has been. Thank you Rebekah! You took the words right out of my brain
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    Another enlarge the government plan to establish a fund to build a pilot facility to dispose of spent fuel. We all know that when there is an idea from the government it will fail and cost the taxpayer many time the original estimate. Use the DOE and the agency already assigned to over see the nuclear industry. Require those companies that operate nuclear plants to build a facility to store the spent fuel. Do not increase the size of the government.
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    No more unmanageable or unstoppable independent commissions. All government bodies should have oversight by other parts of the federal government. Congress should be wary of ceding too much power.
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    How 'bout, we just STOP creating Nuclear Waste?
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    no more do nothing unaccountable govt. departments to hire more swamp creatures
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