House panel holds Dec. 3 hearing on Nuclear Waste Fund issues

December 3, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – The Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today held a hearing examining the funding, budgetary and scoring issues associated with efforts to manage and dispose of our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste – specifically as it relates to the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Today’s hearing built on the subcommittee’s previous work examining specific challenges managing used fuel and national defense waste.

Americans around the country, who rely on clean nuclear power, have paid a tax on electricity generated from commercial nuclear power plants to study, license, and construct a permanent repository for over thirty years. Unfortunately, the fund has not been managed as Congress intended and significant issues exist surrounding the fund. As Chairman Shimkus stated, “The budgetary and scoring treatment of the Nuclear Waste Fund is broken. Since the fee was instituted over 30 years ago, ratepayers in my home state of Illinois have contributed more than any other state at over $2.3 billion to the Nuclear Waste Fund and budgetary and funding challenges have been further complicated by President Obama’s legally dubious decision to walk away from Yucca Mountain.”

Kim P. Cawley, Chief of Natural and Physical Resources Cost Estimates Unit at the Congressional Budget Office testified on the plight of the Department of Energy’s budgetary failures, stating, “DOE is more than 17 years behind schedule in its contractual obligations to remove and dispose of civilian nuclear waste. … The federal government has already paid $5.3 billion in damages to electric utilities, and DOE estimates that its remaining liabilities will total $23.7 billion.” 

Travis Kavulla, Commissioner of the Montana Public Service Commission and President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, touched upon the failures of the federal government to develop a plan when it comes to nuclear waste disposal, saying, “Federal officials continue to “kick the cask” down the road. There is no nuclear waste program worthy of the name, despite exhaustive studies and billions in ratepayer and taxpayer dollars spent. All that remains is the nuclear waste, which sits on site at nuclear reactors, some of them closed. This is not only uneconomic. It undermines confidence in nuclear power.… The U.S. government has not lived up to the promises made under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and subsequent Congressional enactments. This is not a matter of opinion, but of legal record….”

Chairman Shimkus concluded, “Today’s hearing exemplifies the frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars and failure of DOE to establish and develop a permanent nuclear waste facility. The 1982 outlook for nuclear power was more optimistic than today’s. That means a shrinking fleet of operating reactors must provide adequate financial resources for a 100-year program. Today gave us a better perspective as to how and why these budget changes have complicated the program to permanently dispose of used fuel.”