US senators introduce nuclear waste bill

Washington (Platts)--27Jun2013/223 pm EDT/1823 GMT


Four US senators introduced a long-awaited bill Thursday which would create a new federal agency to manage nuclear waste and authorizes the construction of both interim and permanent waste facilities funded by fees from nuclear power ratepayers.

"This bill takes immediate steps to more safely store the most dangerous radioactive waste and lays out a clear plan for a permanent solution," Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Wyden's committee plans to hold a hearing on the bill next month.

Wyden introduced the bill with Senators Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the energy committee, as well Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, the senior lawmakers on the subcommittee that sets the Energy Department's budget.

The bill would create a new Nuclear Waste Administration, headed by a single administrator and overseen by a five-member board, which would take responsibility of managing nuclear waste from the DOE.

The new agency would be funded by potentially hundreds of millions in new fees collected from nuclear power ratepayers and end the federal government's currently costly process of handling waste, Feinstein said.

"The inability of the federal government to collect waste stored across the country at functioning power plants, decommissioned reactors and federal facilities is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year," Feinstein said.

Spent nuclear fuel is currently stored at numerous commercial nuclear facilities around the US due to a lack of a central repository, while waste from US nuclear weapons programs is stored at different DOE sites.

According to a summary of the bill, an estimated $765 million per year in fees from utilities would be used to set up a new Working Capital Fund at Treasury.

The bill would allow construction of an interim storage facility for waste from decommissioned nuclear power plants and emergency shipments from operating plants until a permanent repository is built, a provision which thwarted similar nuclear waste legislation in the previous congress. The new agency would also build at least one temporary storage facility for "non-priority" spent fuel for utilities or defense wastes for DOE.

The bill would create a "consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities," which includes state and local agreements and public hearings, according to the summary. Siting for an interim facility for priority waste would be launched immediately and there would be no waste volume restrictions on storage, according to the bill. The agency would be permitted to site interim facilities for non-priority waste for 10 years as long as funds have been obligated for a parallel process to site a permanent facility, according to the summary.

The senators released a draft of the bill in April, which they said received more than 2,500 public comments. The bill introduced Thursday is largely the same as the draft version, but there are some changes. For example, the five-member oversight board overseeing the new waste agency would be independent, rather than made up of federal officials as in the original draft.

--Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@platts.com --Edited by Jason Lindquist, jason.lindquist@platts.com