An amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 that would establish interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel waste, currently stored at nuclear power plants, made it past the committee stage in the House on Wednesday.
The bill, called the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018, a revision of a 1982 law, opens the door for interim storage that could signal the end of a 30-year impasse on the creation of a permanent federal storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, which is currently stored in dry casks or in cooling pools at about 60 nuclear power plant campuses.
California Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican, said the bill he introduced “makes it clear that the last 30 years of obstruction over any and every plan to get nuclear waste out of our communities is over.”
Issa has attempted twice before to move bills through that would break the not-in-my-backyard resistance to the establishment of a permanent federal repository. For decades, the government has studied and come close to licensing a permanent storage site underground at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. During the Obama administration, the site’s environmental impact studies were approved, but a license was never issued as the political resistance intensified.
President Obama then called for a blue-ribbon panel to further study new options for a permanent federal repository.
The establishment of temporary storage facilities could break the ice on the long-term facility because it would effectively transfer the problem to the federal government, which would take ownership of the waste as soon as it was moved. Currently, the residue is the problem and expense for private nuclear power plant owners, who pass the cost onto utility ratepayers.
The compromise language agreed to today will ensure not only that the long-term permanent storage site at Yucca finally gets completed but also provides that temporary locations will be opened so that waste from facilities like SONGS in my district can be moved out of our backyard as soon as possible,” Issa said in a statement.
SONGS is the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where spent fuel from that facility’s power generation is stored on the California coast north of San Clemente, Issa’s district.
The amendment provides $50 million or 10 percent of the appropriated amounts from the Nuclear Waste Fun to provide interim storage facilities for fiscal years 2020 through 2025, Issa’s office said. It also allows the Energy Secretary to enter into agreements with private companies for interim storage of nuclear waste “when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision on Yucca Mountain is ‘imminent’ and allows for an interim storage agreement to move forward even if a final decision on Yucca Mountain is ultimately denied.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., is working on similar legislation, which has been tagged as a priority for the Trump administration, which has asked for $120 million in the next federal budget to go towards licensing Yucca Mountain.
President of Southern California Edison, Ronald Nichols in a statement issued Wednesday said the new bill was encouraging. “We are encouraged to see the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act progress,” he said. “And look forward to the Senate re-introduction of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act, co-authored by Sen. Feinstein.”