Republicans push Yucca Mountain funding in the House

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen R-N.J., got into a floor debate July 9 on funding for the shelved Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

They supported language included the FY 2014 Energy and Water Appropriations bill to provide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the funds needed to complete its review of the Yucca Mountain license application.

The Energy and Water funding bill, which is currently being debated on the House floor, commits $25m to support Yucca Mountain activities. The bill also provides the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to transfer funds to NRC, granting the administration the flexibility to ensure adequate funds are available to complete the license application review.

The House voted 326 to 81 last year to adopt an amendment offered by Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., to increase funding for the license review, and this year’s funding bill continues the effort to ensure the license application review is completed.

“This approach really builds on last year’s momentum to get this job done,” said Upton in his July 9 statement. “Consumers and taxpayers have paid over $15 billion – B as in big – to find out whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository for civilian spent nuclear fuel and defense nuclear waste. They deserve an answer, yes they do, and under this bill they are going to get one.”

Upton and Shimkus wrote an April 25 letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an analysis of the costs and liabilities associated with the Obama Administration’s new nuclear waste proposal. Despite the current law’s clear focus on the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage program in Nevada, DOE has proposed a different direction for the nation’s nuclear waste that includes interim storage until a new geologic repository can be built by 2048, the GOP leaders said. They are asking GAO how such a proposal would affect costs and liability for taxpayers and the timeline for a permanent nuclear waste solution.

“DOE now is 15 years behind schedule in taking custody of commercial used nuclear fuel,” they wrote in the letter to GAO. “As a result, utilities have been storing the used fuel on the sites where it was generated. Utilities have filed lawsuits seeking to recover from the federal government the costs incurred. In its fiscal year 2012 Agency Financial Report, DOE reported that utilities had filed 78 lawsuits seeking to recover the costs of storing the used fuel and that the Department of Treasury’s judgment fund had paid about $2.6 billion in claims. DOE estimates that further claims – i.e., taxpayer liability – will amount to about $19.7 billion through 2020, which is the date DOE had determined Yucca Mountain could begin disposal operations when it filed its license application in 2008. That 2020 timeline is no longer viable with DOE’s decision in 2010 to walk away from Yucca Mountain. At this point in time, the program has been delayed an estimated eight years, with each year of delay increasing taxpayer liability for DOE’s failure to take custody of the used fuel.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.