Reid bill seeks ‘informed consent’ on spent nuclear fuel storage

Long known for his fierce opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has joined with several other Nevada congressional members, including Republicans, to propose the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act.

Reid and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) introduced the measure in the Senate on March 10. Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) are introducing companion legislation in the House of Representative, according to a March 10 news release from Reid’s office.

The Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act permits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to authorize construction of a nuclear waste repository only if the Secretary of Energy has secured written consent from the governor of the host state, affected units of local government, and affected Indian tribes. This should ensure that Nevada and other states have a “meaningful voice” in the process, according to the release.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended that the federal government only consider “willing” host communities for spent fuel storage.

“We believe a good gauge of consent would be the willingness of affected units of government—the host states, tribes, and local communities – to enter into legally binding agreements with the facility operator, where these agreements enable states, tribes, and communities to have confidence that they can protect the interests of their citizens,” Reid said.

The Democratic Party leader also said the proposal would be consistent with draft legislation that circulating in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during the last session of Congress.

“The game was rigged against Nevada when Congress gutted the original science-based siting process for a nuclear waste repository nearly three decades ago,” Reid said. “The Government made things worse by spending decades trying to force Yucca Mountain on the people of Nevada over their objections. The Act introduced today will give a voice to state and local governments and save our country from making another costly mistake like Yucca Mountain,” Reid went on to say.

Heller agreed. “No state, including Nevada, should be forced to accept waste against its will. With no conceivable path to building Yucca Mountain, it’s time for Washington to admit the obvious: the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository is a figment of the federal government’s imagination,” Heller said.

Congress should now focus its efforts on a consent-based approach for nuclear waste, Heller added.

Then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu dropped DOE backing of Yucca Mountain early in the Obama administration. Since then, however, the courts have forced the NRC to use unspent administrative licensing funds to continue work on the Yucca Mountain application.

NRC commissioners have said recently, however, it will cost more than $300m to complete the Yucca Mountain license case and completion is unlikely when DOE is not currently a willing applicant. 

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.