Bipartisan Senate Coalition Reintroduces Comprehensive Nuclear Waste Legislation

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to safeguard and permanently dispose of the nation’s stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel from sites across the country.

S. 1234, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act (NWAA) of 2019, will provide a path forward for nuclear energy in America by addressing the longstanding failure to implement an effective plan for the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

“As we make the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors a reality, it is also time to end our country’s stalemate on nuclear waste,” Murkowski said. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure the federal government finally fulfills its obligation to address the back-end of the fuel cycle. I thank my colleagues for once again coming together to lead on this important issue, and look forward to holding a hearing on this legislation in the near future.”

“If we want a future with nuclear power that produces clean, cheap, and reliable energy and creates good jobs that keep America competitive in a global economy, then we have to solve the nuclear waste stalemate. This bipartisan legislation would implement the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations and resolve a decades old fight over what to do with our country’s nuclear waste by creating both temporary and permanent storage sites that could be located in states and communities that want them there,” Alexander said.

“The federal government has a responsibility to safely store nuclear waste and the surest way to make progress now is by finding sites that have the consent of their states and local communities. Our bill embodies the expert recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for developing interim storage facilities and long-term repositories to consolidate the spent nuclear fuel that today is scattered across the country. After years of inaction, it’s time to finally take action to solve the issue of where to safely store our nuclear waste,” Feinstein said.

Among the provisions in NWAA are:

Nuclear Waste Administration

  • Establishes an independent agency to manage the country’s nuclear waste program in place of the Department of Energy (DOE). This agency would be headed by an administrator selected by the president and subject to Senate confirmation.

Consent-Based Process for Consolidated Storage Facilities and a Repository

  • Directs the Nuclear Waste Administration to build a pilot storage facility to hold spent fuel from decommissioned nuclear power plants and emergency shipments from operating plants.
  • Directs the agency to build consolidated storage facilities for non-priority spent fuel for utilities or defense wastes for DOE on a temporary basis.
  • Establishes siting processes for storage facilities and repositories.

Linkage Between Storage Facilities and Repository

  • Authorizes the administrator to begin siting a pilot storage facility for priority waste immediately, and does not set waste volume restrictions on storage.
  • Provides that for 10 years following enactment, the administrator may continue to site new storage facilities for non-priority waste as long as funds have been obligated to carry out a parallel repository program.
  • After 10 years, the administrator may site new storage facilities only if at least one site has been selected for evaluation as a potential location for a permanent repository.

Nuclear Waste Fund

  • Establishes a new working capital fund in the U.S. Treasury, into which the fees collected from utilities would be deposited.
  • These funds will be available to the administration without further appropriation. Fees already collected will remain in the Nuclear Waste Fund, where they will continue to be subject to appropriation.

Defense Wastes

  • Authorizes the Secretary of Energy to revisit the decision to commingle defense waste with commercial spent fuel.
  • If the Secretary determines that separate waste facilities are necessary or appropriate for efficiently managing defense wastes, the administrator may site, construct, and operate one or more facilities for that purpose in accordance with the siting-concurrence process in the Act.

Similar legislation was introduced in the 113th and 114th Congresses. The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 in the 113th Congress.

Click here for the bill text.

Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Alexander is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. Feinstein is that panel’s ranking member.

Related Issues: Energy