Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Congress returns from a five-week recess to take up several perennial issues: turmoil in the Middle East, rising government debt and where to dump more than 65,000 tons of waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison Macfarlane and Peter Lyons, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, testify tomorrow at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the waste issue.
While U.S. lawmakers were away from Washington, a federal appeals court on Aug. 13 ruled the NRC is “flouting the law” by not completing its safety review for a dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. The agency, which stopped work after President Barack Obama’s administration killed funding for Yucca in 2010, is reviewing options on the matter through Sept. 30.
Now lawmakers just have to agree on a place to dispose of the spent-fuel rods, a debate that has been underway since at least President Ronald Reagan’s first term, when he signed a law to set up a permanent repository. For now, the material is stored at about 75 operating and closed nuclear plants.
Here’s where it gets thorny. House Republicans say the 1987 law is clear: Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s nuclear-waste dump. However, even if the NRC were to complete its review immediately, the Obama administration has determined that the facility isn’t an option, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, opposes Yucca. The stalemate continues.
Representative John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, and his colleagues on the House panel probably will want to hear what Macfarlane has to say about the court’s ruling and how much cash the agency needs to complete its study. Right now, the NRC has about $11 million, equal to about 1.2 percent of its current budget, for the purpose.
“Committee leaders have expressed that the first order of compliance should be for NRC to complete the Safety Evaluation Report on Yucca Mountain and release it publicly,” according to a Sept. 6 statement from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, senators led by Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, have introduced legislation that would set up a government authority to oversee nuclear-waste disposal and create a storage facility.
The nation’s backlog of commercial nuclear waste is rising so high, even Yucca Mountain won’t be able to hold it all, a independent commission established by Obama reported last year.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING:
CARBON-CAPTURE OUTLOOK: The Atlantic Council will hold a forum today to examine the prospects for advanced fossil-fuel projects, such as carbon-capture technology from power plants. The forum is set to include representatives from Southern Co., the Department of Energy and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. It begins at 2 p.m.
RICHARD-WINDSOR-TESTIMONY: Former Environmental Protection Administration chief Lisa Jackson, who adopted the handle Richard Windsor as her internal e-mail account, will testify to Congress about the Obama administration’s adherence to federal transparency rules. Republicans in Congress say the EPA and Jackson tried to circumvent open records laws by using the alias e-mail for official business. The House Oversight & Government Reform hearing is scheduled tomorrow at 9 a.m.
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