Sen. Murkowski’s Opening Statement on Nuclear Fuel Storage Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, issued the following opening statement at today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission’s report on what to do about America’s spent nuclear fuel:

“The issue of nuclear waste management has been frustrating Congress, multiple administrations, utilities, and rate payers for many decades now.  Efforts to address it through the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and the 1987 Amendments remain unresolved. Taxpayers have so far paid over $2 billion in damages resulting from the government’s failure to take title to the used nuclear fuel. The Department of Energy estimates that if title were to be taken by 2021 – just a few years from now, the total liability incurred would be over $13 billion. Some in industry are estimating that the total cost will be closer to $50 billion, if not higher.

“Gen. (Brent) Scowcroft and Rep. Hamilton, I have great admiration for your willingness to tackle this assignment. When the BRC was first announced, it was my belief that its credibility would be determined by who the members of the commission were.  Your participation has certainly given it credibility. 

“It was also my belief at the time that the administration’s decision to form a commission was simply kicking the can down the road; that we would be in the exact same position as we were at the time of its formation. I was wrong – we are actually in a worse position now than before. 

“Let me explain why. Any possibility of advancing legislation to address the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle was effectively put on hold while the BRC conducted its review.  In the meantime, the Administration shut down all of its activity on Yucca Mountain.  The Department of Energy attempted to withdraw its application for the Yucca repository – an effort rejected by an NRC licensing board. Given the NRC’s inability to break a tie vote, it appears that a court will need to decide the issue. At this point, the possibility of the federal government meeting its contractual obligations by 2021 seems to be even more unlikely than it was when the BRC was formed.

“It took us 30 years and over ten billion dollars to get this far on the Yucca Mountain repository site, and while I believe Yucca remains a possibility, we must also consider the potential of starting anew. In looking at our own and other nation’s siting processes, the time frame to establish a repository seems to be roughly 20 to 40 years. While I would like to believe that we have learned enough along the way to speed up the siting process, the odds are closer to industry’s estimate of what the total liability cost will end up being.

“As the BRC report notes, the government’s failure to address our nuclear waste issues is damaging to the development of future nuclear power, and is simultaneously worsening our nation’s financial situation. We need to act, and we need to do so very soon.

“The BRC report does not break a lot of new ground. We have seen proposals along the lines of most of the recommendations in the past so these shouldn’t be new issues for this Committee to take up and consider. Sen. (Mary) Landrieu and I earlier this Congress introduced the Nuclear Fuel Storage Improvement Act (S. 1320) to provide for interim used nuclear fuel storage capacity along the lines of the BRC’s recommendation. I was a cosponsor of Sen. (George) Voinovich’s Fed-Corp proposal in the last Congress to create a quasi-governmental entity to take over the management of the back-end of the fuel cycle much like the BRC recommends.  It may be time to reintroduce that legislation, or something similar.

 “The trickiest part, of course, and in my view the issue that needs to be addressed first, is the money. Accessing and utilizing the Nuclear Waste Fund creates a scoring problem with no easy solution. At the same time, a stable, sufficient funding stream is needed, not just for whichever entity ends up handling the spent fuel management, but also the states and local units of government that agree to host the storage and repository sites. The BRC has resurrected a proposal by the DOE to administratively change the timing of fee payments, thus bypassing any legislative pay-go requirement. I look forward to hearing more from our witnesses on this proposal and other potential ways to resolve this complex issue.”