One of the more significant areas of initial disagreement in the FY
2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill was the reprocessing
of spent nuclear fuel. House appropriators advanced a plan for the Department
of Energy to designate one or more above-ground interim storage sites
for domestic spent fuel, and move ahead on the selection of a reprocessing
technology, an approach that Senate appropriators did not take. The
final legislation written by the appropriators provided $50 million
to "develop a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/161.html.)
Today's edition of "The Washington Post" describes a Bush
Administration proposal to be sent to Congress in coming weeks to increase
nuclear power generation in the United States and abroad, and to reprocess
nuclear fuel from other nations. The "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership"
would provide funding for the development of technologies to substantially
reduce or eliminate the possible diversion of nuclear materials. The
Post quotes Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Energy and
Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and chairman of the Energy
and Natural Resources Committee, that he will introduce a bill to implement
the Administration's plan, hold a hearing on it, and move the legislation
to the Senate floor this spring.
Domenici discussed his position on nuclear power and fuel recycling
at the November meeting of the U.S.-Japan Workshop on Nuclear Energy.
Selections from his address follow:
"With the recent passage of the Energy Policy Act, utilities
are deciding that the time is right to build nuclear power plants
in America. In fact, as of last week, eight utilities across the United
States have announced plans to take the first step in building 13
new nuclear power plants that, combined, will produce at least 15
gigawatts of new power in the next 15 years. These eight utilities
are taking these first steps by starting the licensing process for
a new plant.
"If all 13 plants are built, the construction and operation
of the plants would create approximately 18,000 construction jobs
and 6,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs.
"I believe Congress has shown vision and leadership
in making our nuclear renaissance a reality. To those who say the
government has not done enough to address climate change, I would
counter that the extraordinary congressional commitment to new nuclear
power has been driven in large part by a deep and abiding concern
for our environment and our climate.
"However, a challenge remains. Our work to foster new
nuclear power has added new urgency to an old question: what should
the U.S. fuel cycle be to support long-term, sustainable nuclear power?
"And while we tackle that challenge, what do we do with
our spent nuclear fuel?
"For years, Yucca Mountain was the answer. But Yucca Mountain
evolved from the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. In 1982 the industry
was in status quo.' The nuclear plants that existed at the time
would run to their projected lifetimes and be decommissioned. The
Nuclear Regulatory Commission became the nursemaid that would watch
over the industry until the last plant turned off.
"Yucca Mountain was created to be the final resting
place of the spent nuclear fuel from these plants -- and frankly,
the resting place of nuclear energy in the United States. The intent
was to move fuel to the mountain, fill the mountain and close it.
At that point, we would simply haggle over what kind of sign to hang
over the locked front door.
"But it's no longer 1982. While some plants have shut
down, the vast majority of nuclear power plants in this country still
operate, providing clean and reliable electricity that's cheaper than
all other sources except hydropower. Operating licenses and plant
lifetimes are being extended to extract the most from these investments.
And now, 13 new power plants are being discussed.
"In this new environment, the current U.S. policy regarding Yucca
Mountain should be that it will not do enough by itself. I believe
we must look anew on our policy on spent nuclear fuel and I think
that re-evaluation is under way.
"As a fan and believer in demonstrated technology solutions,
I urge continued research and development of reprocessing technologies
that deal with the limitations of existing technology. We must conduct
engineering scale pilot demonstrations to prove the technology can
be scaled-up and is economically viable before choosing a technology
that will enable us to squeeze every last bit of energy from those
fuel elements, leaving in its wake by-products that can be safely
and effectively managed.
"I believe we must bring the scientific passion and
creativity to the fuel cycle that we have brought to creating smaller,
safer and more powerful nuclear reactors. What we have done globally
with advanced nuclear reactors in the last 20 years amazes me. I believe
what we can do with the fuel cycle in the next 20 years can amaze
"But that's me. I have always been a fan of what I call
Big Science -- science that improves modern life. I am the man you
expect to advocate a renewed commitment to fuel technologies.
"But the interest in exploring solutions beyond Yucca
Mountain is coming from other quarters now. Let me give you a few
"We appropriated $50 million for spent fuel recycling
in the current energy and water appropriations bill. The recommendation
for this funding came first from the House, not my subcommittee.
"I note with interest a series of discussions within
the Administration on long term solutions to reprocessing.
"Even the courts and regulatory agencies are weighing
in. The current legal and regulatory debate or disposal standards
has raised the question about whether it drives to fuel treatment.
"These issues are complex. I believe technology provides
more than one answer -- what we are beginning to see is a dance between
what is technically possible and what is socially necessary and acceptable.
It will be a long discussion, but we have decades."