Murkowski: It’s Time to End the Nuclear Waste Stalemate

June 27, 2019

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine options for the interim and long-term storage of nuclear waste. The committee also received testimony on S. 1234, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act (NWAA), which was introduced in late April by Murkowski, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Murkowski opened the hearing by speaking to the importance of nuclear energy in our country’s electric generation mix.  

“The large reactors that dot the landscape provide reliable, emissions-free power to communities across the country,” Murkowski said. “Our nation’s nuclear industry is critically important, but also faces a number of challenges, and one that has impacted it since the first reactors began operation is nuclear waste disposition.” 

Murkowski went on to describe the long-standing stalemate over the back end of the fuel cycle, including the federal government’s inability to take title of used fuel and move it to a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. 

“The federal government’s failure to deliver on this promise is now costing taxpayers over $2 million per day,” Murkowski said. “This hearing is an opportunity for us to consider our next steps on nuclear waste. Do we continue to delay in the face of the stalemate over Yucca, or do we try to find another path forward for used fuel storage – especially for communities that are maintaining sites with only used fuel casks left on hand, with the rest of the plant decommissioned?”

Murkowski reintroduced the NWAA along with Sens. Alexander and Feinstein, the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, to provide an alternate pathway for used fuel and nuclear waste disposition. Similar legislation was introduced in the 113th and 114th Congresses. Among other provisions, the bill establishes the Nuclear Waste Administration, an independent agency to manage the country’s nuclear waste program; implements a consent-based process for consolidated storage facilities and a new long-term repository; and authorizes the siting of a pilot storage facility for priority waste.

The hearing witnesses provided testimony on the bill and discussed the importance of moving forward on nuclear waste in order to realize the potential of advanced reactors, which have potential to revolutionize the nuclear industry.

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, explained that there are many advanced reactor designs being developed that can be deployed in the U.S. in the near future to provide clean, safe, reliable, and affordable energy.

“Burdening these promising technologies with the weight of a floundering federal used fuel management program unnecessarily and unreasonably limits the tools we have to combat climate change at a time when we need every carbon-free generation option available,” Korsnick said.

Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.