Bingaman on Yucca Mountain Resolution

June 5, 2002
12:00 AM
S. J. Res. 34 approves the President’s recommendation of the Yucca Mountain site for the development of a nuclear waste repository. Enactment of the resolution will not allow the Department of Energy to begin putting nuclear waste in the repository or even to begin building the repository; it will only enable the Department to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will then have to decide whether the repository is safe. Failure to enact the resolution by July 25 will effectively terminate the nuclear waste program by blocking any further consideration of the Yucca Mountain site, which, under current law, is the only site that DOE can consider for the repository. The Committee’s consideration of the resolution stems from the ‘state veto’ provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The Act gave the Governor of Nevada the opportunity to veto the President’s site and provided that the Governor’s veto will stand unless both Houses of Congress pass, and the President signs, a joint resolution approving the site within 90 days after the Governor’s veto. The legislative history of the state veto provisions of the Act suggests that our job is to determine: 1) whether the Governor has raised an objection that would warrant terminating any further consideration of the site; 2) whether the Administration has made a case for allowing the program to go forward to the next step – a license application to the NRC – and letting the NRC decide whether the repository can be safely built and operated; and 3) whether proceeding with the repository over the objections of the State is in the national interest. Based on the testimony that the Committee heard over three days of hearings and my review of the additional documents submitted for the record, I am satisfied that we should allow DOE to apply to the NRC for a license for the repository. 1) Although the Governor raised several serious questions about the geology of Yucca Mountain, the design of the repository, the credibility of DOE’s computer models and the safety of waste shipments to the repository, those questions are best answered by the technical experts at the NRC. Adoption of the resolution will allow the NRC to resolve them in its licensing proceeding. Nothing in the record before the Committee justifies our terminating the program and preventing DOE from applying to the NRC for a license at this point. 2) DOE has submitted sufficient justification for its recommendation to entitle it, in my opinion, to be able to present an application to the NRC. DOE needs to do more to resolve the remaining design issues, to improve its performance assessments, and to strengthen transportation planning and better ensure the safety and security of waste shipments before the NRC can authorize construction of the repository. But the technical experts – the NRC, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, and the EPA – believe DOE can do so, and I find nothing in the record before the Committee that warrants our coming to a different conclusion and abruptly terminating the program at this point. 3) The national interest in finding a permanent solution to the nuclear waste problem remains as strong today as it did when Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act 20 years ago. As the National Academy of Sciences has said, ‘geological disposal remains the only scientifically and technically credible long-term solution available to meet the need for safety without reliance on active management.’ We have drawn both energy and national security benefits for the use of nuclear technology over the past 58 years. We have a responsibility to dispose of these wastes ourselves, rather than leave them to future generations to deal with. In sum, a vote for the resolution is not a final vote to put nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain. It is a vote to allow DOE to move ahead to the next step, to apply to the NRC a couple of years from now for an authorization to begin building a repository, after an exhaustive, public safety review by the agency with the technical expertise to decide these matters. A vote against the resolution is a vote to stop the program in its tracks, to leave the waste where it is, at 72 nuclear power plant sites and five DOE weapons facilities across the country, with no alternative strategy waiting in the wings, and little chance of putting together a political consensus to find a new strategy in the foreseeable future. For all these reasons, I intend to vote for the resolution, and urge the Committee to report it favorably. # # #