Thursday, June 02, 2011

House Hearing on Storage of Civilian Nuclear Waste

John Shimkus
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), held a hearing today to examine “The Department of Energy’s Role in Managing Civilian Radioactive Waste.” It was the committee’s first hearing on our nuclear future since the Government Accountability Office released its report slamming DOE’s decision to withdraw the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s license application for Yucca Mountain.

Mark Gaffigan, Managing Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the GAO, summarized the report’s findings, noting that, “DOE has not cited any technical or safety issues but has stated that Yucca Mountain is 'not a workable option' in large part because of the lack of public acceptance.” GAO blamed “social and political opposition to a permanent repository” as the key obstacle in its report.

Subcommittee members from both parties expressed their frustration and concern with DOE’s decision to shut down Yucca Mountain and questioned whether DOE’s actions were in violation of the law, specifically, whether or not Secretary Chu had the authority to withdraw the NRC application under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. During questioning, Dr. Peter B. Lyons, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy, was unable to cite a scientific justification for the department’s decision. Instead, Lyons reiterated the position of Secretary Chu that Yucca Mountain is “not a workable option” due to public opposition.

Members and witnesses agreed there remains a pressing need for a permanent solution to nuclear waste and acknowledged that any long-term storage solution would be timely and costly. Several witnesses testified to the time and taxpayer dollars already exhausted on Yucca Mountain. Gregory Friedman, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Energy stated that, “The United States has invested nearly 30 years of effort and expended over $15 billion to develop a nuclear waste repository.” Friedman went on to say that any further delays in building a nuclear repository would incur additional liability and defense costs on taxpayers.

Greg White, who testified on behalf of the Michigan Public Service Commission, expressed his concerns over the government’s failed commitment to take the nation’s nuclear waste and its mismanagement of the Nuclear Waste Fund, stating, “Yucca Mountain did not fail for lack of the utilities and their ratepayers making the payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund, which exceeded $31 billion, with interest."

Chairman Shimkus pledged that the subcommittee will continue to investigate DOE’s role in the shut down of Yucca Mountain and fight for a permanent solution to store the nation’s nuclear waste. (House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Press Release)

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