Remarks to the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning. Thank you also to David Blee and the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council for the invitation to share a Congressional perspective on the “State of the Renaissance” of the nuclear industry.
Let me start by complimenting the Obama Administration and the Department of Energy for some of the actions they have taken in the last several months relating to the nuclear industry. I know it’s early, but you heard correctly. A Republican is complimenting the Administration – but only for some of their actions...
The Administration’s request for more loan guarantee authority for new nuclear builds, both in its Fiscal Year 2011 budget request and in the Supplemental Appropriations bill is to be commended. The Department of Energy finally signed off on its first conditional loan guarantee for the construction of a new nuclear plant in February – and more recently for a uranium enrichment facility to be built in Idaho. I am also supportive of the Department’s fiscal year 2011 funding request for small modular reactor research. These are positive steps to move the industry forward, and need to be repeated in the months and years to come.
Let me also compliment the seriousness with which the newly formed Blue Ribbon Commission is tackling their directive to examine the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Unfortunately, I find their directive flawed, as it does not include Yucca Mountain as an option.
Last September, I had the opportunity to speak with some members of the Nuclear Infrastructure Council and I noted my continued concern about the lack of activity on what to do about the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle – that if Yucca was taken off the table, the Administration did not have a Plan B. I also said that if support from the local communities that host existing nuclear reactors waivers because of the growing amount of spent fuel in their backyards, and an uncertainty of when that fuel would be removed, that support for new builds will erode as well.
It took us 30 years to get this far on Yucca Mountain. Are local communities really willing to support additional builds that will mean even more spent fuel in their backyards when there is a considerable uncertainty about what will happen to the existing spent fuel? Are they willing to wait another 100 years for the spent fuel to be removed? Why is the government so set on creating even greater uncertainty on where spent fuel will ultimately be stored and what is the rush to take Yucca off the table?
When the Department of Energy submitted a motion to withdraw its Yucca Mountain license application from the NRC in March its rationale was because we need it too much. Okay, that is my interpretation, but Secretary Chu did note at the time that due to the revival of the nuclear industry, Yucca Mountain’s repository would hit its statutory capacity limit in the next several decades and would not meet future industry needs.
So instead of moving forward with a permanent repository that billions of dollars has already been spent on, and simply expanding the arbitrary limit that the law put on the size of the repository, spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear reactors will be stored on-site at over 100 locations across the country for at least… the next several decades. And if we do have the nuclear revival that many of us believe is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet our energy needs, the amount of spent fuel and the number of on-site storage locations across the country will only increase. Like I said, we can’t do Yucca because we need it too much.
Not only is the Department of Energy seeking to withdraw its license application – and I am not convinced that they have the authority to do so – they are seeking to withdraw it “with prejudice,” making it very difficult if not impossible to resurrect Yucca Mountain as a possible option for spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste regardless of what future scientific and engineering advances may offer.
In fact, the Department of Energy argues in its motion that “scientific and engineering knowledge on issues relevant to disposition of high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel has advanced dramatically over the twenty years since the Yucca Mountain project was initiated.” Apparently the Department is also arguing that scientific and engineering knowledge on the same issues will not advance any further over the next several decades to address issues with the Yucca Mountain site.
Legal issues aside, the Department of Energy estimates that the potential liability of the federal government’s contractual obligations to utilities will be $12.3 billion – if the government starts taking title to the spent fuel by 2020 – just 10 years from now. Utility industry reports estimate the claims will total $50 billion. These estimates were developed before the Administration took steps to withdraw the Yucca application. I understand there is a new study underway that could see claims reaching $100 billion. So we have liability estimates of between $12 billion and $50 billion in taxpayer money, perhaps even higher – if a repository is open and accepting spent fuel in 10 years.
At a time when we are already racking up trillions of dollars in debt for future generations, the Administration has freely chosen to incur additional future taxpayer liability in terms of tens of billions of dollars by withdrawing the Yucca Mountain repository license application, because, in the words of Secretary Chu, “the statutory limit of Yucca Mountain would have been used up in the next several decades.”
So, we know what the Administration’s approach to the nuclear industry is. What about Congress? In short, lots of talk but little action.
Almost one year ago, the Senate Energy Committee passed a bipartisan energy bill that provides for greater energy efficiencies, the growth of renewable resources, and increased domestic production of oil and gas. Although the nuclear title is not as robust as I would have hoped, the bill:
- Supports the development and expansion of our energy workforce including those in the nuclear industry;
- Doubles the authorized funding level for nuclear research and development;
- Reforms the Loan Guarantee Program through the Clean Energy Deployment Program that will assist in the financing of new nuclear reactors;
- Excludes new nuclear power plants and plant uprates from the Renewable Energy Standard baseline;
- Includes a Sense of Congress that says nuclear power is a good thing, and that the Federal Government should fulfill its obligations with respect to spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste; and
- Provides guidance to the Department of Energy to advance the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative and take another step toward nuclear fuel reprocessing and recycling.
By itself, the bill would decrease greenhouse gas emissions and help address climate change concerns without bankrupting the country and inhibiting our economy. For 10 years now we have heard consistently about the urgency of global climate change and the need to address it. I agree that there is evidence of climate change – we can see real life affects of it in Alaska – but I find it inconsistent that the same entities who press for immediate action seek to hold up the Energy Committee bill, and at the same time deny nuclear a role in the solution.
To its credit, the Kerry-Lieberman bill contains some strong incentives and support for the nuclear industry and I know some of you were very much involved in helping to craft that language. If the full Senate were to have a vote on that section alone, I have no doubt that it would receive a strong majority vote.
In fact, I anticipate that any energy/climate change bill that reaches the Senate floor will either have a nuclear title similar to Kerry-Lieberman, or an amendment along those lines will be included. Unfortunately for the nuclear industry, other policies are likely to also be included in any climate change bill that make its future much more uncertain.
I know there are many other topics we could discuss, from a 123 Agreement with Russia to Sen. Voinovich’s FedCorp bill I am a cosponsor of, but I would also like to hear from you on how the government’s action, or inaction, is impacting your operations.
Thank you again for your time this morning and I would be happy to answer any questions and get your views on the state of the nuclear renaissance.
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