Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Pete Domenici is working on a bill that would set up the nation’s first government-backed commercialized nuclear waste reprocessing facilities. The bill, which he and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., plan to unveil in the next two weeks, would authorize the Energy Department to set up long-term contracts with private companies to temporarily store in dry cask and then recycle spent nuclear fuel at privately funded regional facilities. It would establish a 50-50 federal-private cost share for designing and licensing of four facilities, two that temporarily store spent nuclear fuel and two that recycle it. The licensing of these facilities would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and the cost share “makes it more feasible,” a Domenici aide said.
The location of these facilities will not be dictated in the bill. Instead, the legislation will provide federal payments to local governments and communities that agree to house the facilities. The federal share of the facilities would come from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which is fed by consumers of nuclear-generated electricity who contribute one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour used. The bill comes amid uncertainty over the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository in Nevada. “Things are not happening; things aren’t moving [regarding Yucca],” said the aide. But the aide added that the bill does not intend to create a permanent repository like Yucca.
Congress cut funding for Yucca Mountain by $108 million last year, and the earliest the repository would be ready is beyond 2017, according to the Energy Department. “It shouldn’t get caught up necessarily in that fight or those politics,” Domenici’s aide said. The administration’s plan to create and utilize new technologies to reprocess nuclear waste as part of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is also stalling. Domenici’s plan would use existing technologies and is a shorter term idea, his aide said.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.