The transport and interim storage of commercial spent nuclear fuel
at centralized sites and its eventual reprocessing was given a significant
boost on May 24 during House consideration of the FY 2006 Energy and
Water Development Appropriations Bill. Representatives rejected an amendment
to reduce funding for the planning of these activities by a vote of
The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee
included extensive language regarding the disposition of spent nuclear
fuel in House Report 109-086 that accompanied H.R. 2419. It is evident
from the report and from floor debate that appropriators are dissatisfied
with the status quo, and are using this funding bill to change the current
policy of on-site spent fuel storage at nuclear plants while awaiting
eventual disposal at a permanent repository. The report speaks of the
current system as creating "a costly and unnecessary security risk."
It predicts that initial operations at the Yucca Mountain repository
might be delayed until the later half of the next decade, estimating
that it costs the federal government $1 billion for every year of delay.
The report states that the waste produced by 2010 would fully utilize
Yucca Mountain's authorized capacity, necessitating a second repository.
Appropriators outlined two steps that DOE should take in nonbinding
report language. First, "the Committee believes the Department
should move aggressively to take title to commercial spent fuel and
consolidate such fuel in a smaller number of more secure, above-ground
interim storage facilities located at existing DOE facilities."
"[P]ossible alternative DOE sites include Hanford, Idaho, and Savannah
River, all of which presently store government-owned spent fuel and
high level waste and both of which already have extensive security measures
in place." If these sites are found to be impracticable, DOE should
investigate "other federally-owned sites, closed military bases,
and non-federal fuel storage facilities." An implementation
plan must be prepared by DOE within 120 days of the bill's enactment.
The report contains extensive language on nuclear fuel reprocessing.
"[T]he Committee directs the Department to prepare an integrated
spent fuel recycling plan for implementation in fiscal year 2007, including
selection of an advanced reprocessing technology and a competitive process
to select one or more sites to develop integrated spent fuel recycling
facilities (i.e., reprocessing, preparation of mixed oxide fuel, vitrification
of high level waste products, and temporary process storage,"
the report declares. The report cites the PUREX reprocessing technology
used in some European countries, and says, "There is no evidence
that these reprocessing operations pose a significant proliferation
risk." New nuclear reactors will also reduce dependence on
imported fossil fuels, the appropriators said.
When the House considered the appropriations bill, Representatives
Ed Markey (D-MA), Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Jay Inslee (D-WA) offered an
amendment to transfer $15.5 million that is to be used for reprocessing
and interim storage programs to energy efficiency programs. Markey told
his colleagues that "this is a huge moment," and argued that
reprocessing increases the opportunities for nuclear proliferation,
is unsafe, is too expensive, and that the money would be better spent
for other programs. Holt argued "Such a step must not be taken
lightly, with no hearings, no authorizing legislation, no public input,
no analysis of the implications for nuclear proliferation, not even
an analysis of the cost to taxpayers." Appropriations subcommittee
chairman David Hobson (R-OH) disagreed, saying "This country
would be foolish to ignore the potential benefits of new technologies."
The House voted against the amendment: 110 yes to 312 no (see http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll207.xml
) The bill now moves to the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Subcommittee, chaired by Pete Domenici (R-NM). Domenici has actively
promoted nuclear energy, and it would not be surprising if he accepts
Hobson's strategy on the storage and reprocessing of spent fuel.