Legislation that returns Yucca Mountain, Nevada, to the front of the line with regards to selection – and implementation – of the nation’s federal repository for spent fuel from nuclear power plants passed a House subcommittee’s review in Washington on Thursday.
The Subcommittee on Environment for the House Energy and Commerce Committee gave their approval to the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017. The bill now goes to the parent committee.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the committee members heard “scores of expert witnesses” on the subject. He also called nuclear waste management a bipartisan issue. “There is an urgent need for Congress to address this challenge as taxpayer liability continues to skyrocket due to federal government’s obligations,” the Las Vegas Sun quoted Shimkus as saying.
Nevada’s Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto has pledged to fight the legislation. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has also said he was opposed to Yucca Mountain as a federal repository. His office has also said he would fight a lawsuit filed in Texas that seeks to force the government to meet its obligations concerning the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s spent fuel repository.
The new bill would allow the federal government to supersede the state’s air and water quality mandates. It would also “remove the cap on the amount of waste originally allowed at the proposed Yucca Mountain facility,” complained Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
Titus noted that the majority of voters in the state were opposed to the selection of Yucca Mountain as a spent fuel repository. She called the bill “another show of hostility toward Nevada by Republicans who want to shove this dangerous project down our throats.”
Despite Titus calling out Republicans, two noteworthy exceptions stand between the legislation moving forward and Yucca Mountain opening up a repository. Republican Nevada Gov., Brian Sandoval said he would “defend and protect the state at every opportunity.” He said the state is “counting on our federal delegation to do everything they can to stop it.”
This pointedly means Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, who is also opposed to his home state becoming the storage site for nuclear waste that will remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.
The country currently has more than 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a figure from 2013 that includes the point that the accumulation has been growing at a rate of at least 1,200 metric tons each year since the early 1970s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As of 2018, the accumulated waste included a total of 241,468 fuel assemblies “with an initial loading weight of about 70,000 metric tons of uranium.” At that point, the waste was stored at 118 commercial nuclear reactors – and none of that has been moved, although the number of active nuclear reactors in the country is now down to 99.
There are two storage stages for the spent fuel from commercial reactors. The waste is first stored in spent fuel pools, while they cool down, the water providing a shield against escaping radiation. After they have cooled, the fuel is moved to dry storage. The fuel goes into a cask filled with inert gas, each cask surrounded by steel or concrete or both.