What will a new administration mean for the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository? During today's E&ETV Event Coverage of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, major stakeholders on all sides of the waste disposal debate give their take on the cost and progress of the project and comment on the future of Yucca Mountain.
Witnesses (in order): Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada; Edward Sproat, director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Department of Energy; Michael Weber, director, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA; B. John Garrick, chairman, U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board; Marvin Fertel, executive vice president and chief nuclear officer, Nuclear Energy Institute; and Anne George, commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, and chair, NARUC Committee on Electricity.
Rick Boucher: Today we will receive testimony on the status of the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program, a matter of major concern to many, including the electricity consumers who are paying their funds into the nuclear waste fund.
Congratulations should be extended this morning to Mr. Sproat, the director of DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, for his success in meeting his promised date of June 2008 for submission to the NRC of the Yucca Mountain licensing application.
Since it has now been submitted, it's appropriate that we learn this morning about the overall status of the project and the next steps that we can anticipate.
While the submission to the NRC of the license application achieves an important milestone, the long-standing challenge of assuring adequate funding for the project remains of paramount concern.
While, in theory, a balance of more than $20 million resides in the Nuclear Waste Fund, in practice most of that money has been expended for the purposes.
Each year the nuclear waste program has to compete for annual appropriations and actual appropriations have been only a fraction of the amount that the ratepayers have contributed into the Nuclear Waste Fund.
For example, this year $750 million in rate payer contributions will go into that fund, but the administration is only proposing that $494.7 million be spent on nuclear waste disposal.
So, $750 million going into the fund in rate payer contributions, slightly less than $500 million to be spent on nuclear waste disposal.
And even that amount, approximately $500 million, is divided between the civilian program that the Nuclear Waste Fund was designed to finance, and the Department of Defense's nuclear waste disposal, with an even contribution in the administration's proposal between the two programs.
We will be interested in Mr. Sproat's view of how this level of expenditure for the civilian program will affect his projections for opening the Yucca Mountain repository.
We're also interested in how the administration's funding request, if reflected in appropriations, will affect the NRC schedule for reviewing the license application.
By law, the NRC has three years to review and act on the application with the fourth year permissible under certain circumstances.
Mr. Weber's view of whether the NRC will have adequate funding to achieve that schedule will be of interest to us. I appreciate the attendance of the witnesses this morning and look forward to their testimony.
And pending the beginning of testimony from our witnesses, I'm pleased now to recognize other members for their opening statements, beginning with the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Upton, ranking Republican on this subcommittee.
Fred Upton: Why thank you Mr. Chairman. This is an important hearing on the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Our hearing today will largely focus on the Yucca Mountain repository as a solution to meet the government's spent nuclear fuel obligations.
Storing our supply of spent fuel in its current form deep inside Yucca Mountain isn't the only disposal option available to us. And I look forward, certainly, to future hearings that may focus on other possible solutions to our spent fuel disposal needs.
Properly dealing with the spent nuclear fuel is the key to our coming nuclear renaissance. With our power needs growing and a desire for clean, zero emission power, we'll need literally hundreds of new nuclear reactors over the next 50 to 75 years.
Nuclear power is the cleanest, most efficient, most reliable source of electricity and it must be at the forefront of our energy supply, impossible without rationally dealing with spent fuel. Our current policy on Yucca Mountain is charting us on a perilous course.
With the nation's nuclear reactors in operation today, we will reach the statutory space limit for Yucca in just a couple of years. And it should be noted that the statutory limit of 70,000 tons of spent fuel is artificially low.
Scientists and other experts say that Yucca could hold perhaps twice that amount or more. Regardless of Yucca's space limitations, we're long overdue to close the nuclear fuel cycle. Through advances recycling we can turn spent fuel into new fuel while vastly reducing our disposal needs.
There's no reason why we shouldn't be treating nuclear power as a renewable resource. Nuclear is just as clean as solar or wind and the fuel is, in fact, recyclable. And, unlike solar or wind, nuclear provides round-the-clock, reliable baseload power.
With our current once-through fuel cycle, an individual's lifetime footprint of spent fuel is about the size of a pop can. Using proven recycling technology, we can reduce the volume of our high-level waste footprint by about 90 to 95 percent or that of a half-dollar.
It is my hope that we can take advantage of these technologies and I certainly intend to work on bipartisan legislation with my colleagues to make sure that recycling can be part of the nuclear fuel cycle, noting that Yucca must still have a place in this forward thinking strategy.
To date over $27 billion has been accumulated in the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund and about $8 billion has been spent. Every year, as the chairman indicated, 750 million more goes into the fund from ratepayers, and another billion dollars accumulates in interest.
After an allocation of these resources, one would think that we'd have something to show for it, but to date we do not. Through budgetary sleights-of-hand and a flawed appropriation process that allows NIMBY interests to trump national priorities, this money has not been fully spent towards its intended purposes.
Seven hundred and fifty million goes into the fund every year, but that money doesn't come out. In fact, not only does the waste fund become a black hole in the U.S. Treasury, we're accumulating billions in liabilities estimated to reach some 7 billion by the year 2017.
Ward Sproat, joining us today, deserves to be commended. He beat his actual deadline a year ago by about a month. The main problem that we face with Yucca Mountain is the lack of appropriated funds. The waste fund must be taken off budget to fix the problem.
The appropriators and anti-nuclear activists have been playing games with our domestic energy security for far too long and it's the American people who are getting stuck with the tab. France gets nearly 80 percent of its power, actually more than 80 percent of its power from nuclear.
And using American technology they recycle their nuclear fuel. They even have enough electricity capacity to export it to their neighbors. Germany, on the other hand, decided to phase out nuclear power and now they're an importer of electricity.
They've completely lost their energy independence. The U.S. is fortunate today to be energy independent when it comes to electricity needs.
But without sound policies for spent fuel management and new nuclear power coming online, we're headed towards the road towards importing electricity at higher rates, much like we're importing oil. America's working families deserve coherent policies to address these energy needs.
It is imperative that clean, safe nuclear power is at the forefront as we seek to solidify our nation's energy supply and foster a new era of energy independence and reduced emissions. Yield back.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Upton. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Gonzalez, is recognized for three minutes.
The gentleman waives his opening statements and will have three minutes added to his questioning time for the second panel of witnesses this morning. The gentle lady from California, Ms. Matsui, is recognized for three minutes.
Doris Matsui: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I thank you very much for calling this hearing today and for your continued focus on these important issues. I am very pleased to be here today and I would just take a minute so we can continue on to the distinguished witnesses.
I'd like to thank today's panelists for joining us to discuss the important subject of nuclear waste. I look forward to hearing all of your expert opinions. Mr. Chairman, my district has had a long history with nuclear power.
After years of wasted costs and environmental and security threats, the people of Sacramento voted to shut down Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in 1989. It is now fully decommissioned. I, as well as my constituents, continue to have any number of reservations about nuclear power.
While the fact that this energy source does not emit greenhouse gas is exciting, we cannot simply accept it blindly without thoroughly investigating all consequences and outcomes.
With that said, I fully realize it almost 20 percent of our nation's electricity generation comes from nuclear sources. Because of that, we, as a nation, simply must resolve the ever-growing problem of nuclear waste.
I hope the witnesses here today can help this committee with suggestions and strategies that we can use going forward. We need to confront this issue and we need to do so in order to protect the health, safety, and security of this country.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for your leadership and your commitment to these issues. And I yield back the balance of my time.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Ms. Matsui. The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Shimkus, is recognized for three minutes.
John Shimkus: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I too want to thank you for this hearing and the focus on energy supply. I, like many of us, am disappointed at the rumors of coalitions of bipartisan members outside of the committee working to address the supply and not the best place where that should happen, which is here.
Because we have a bipartisan majority that could easily move a supply bill that would be accepted on the floor of the House. Having said that, we know electricity demand is going to continue to increase. We, as the country, can no longer say no to adding supply as part of our energy solutions.
Just to keep up with the projected energy demand, we're going to need 52 new nuclear power plants, 747 new coal plants. That's just to meet future demand, 2000 new hydroelectric generators and 13,000 new megawatts of renewable power. That's why we've been on the floor talking about American-made energy.
Nuclear power is American-made energy. Nuclear power is American jobs. Nuclear power, if we're going to go into this debate of climate change, is the only way that we're going to get to any type of climate change numbers without rapidly increasing the costs.
That would be devastating to the economy. We had a hearing last week on the carbon capture and sequestration bill. And another of the challenges to that bill, Mr. Chairman, was we had a fund that we were not going to allow the government to touch.
Well, I think the Nuclear Trust Fund, which we control, and we have collected millions of dollars from and we were not putting that money to where it goes, into the waste disposal, is a perfect example why we shouldn't trust the federal government to handle the funds in your carbon capture and sequestration bill.
Another reason we shouldn't trust the government is, and I didn't say it last week, was on the whole FutureGen debate.
You know, here the government rolled out a great federal program to capture and sequester carbon, a new coal emitting plant, and when industry and the international community got involved, the administration, my administration, President Bush, pulled the rug out from under the plant.
So this is a perfect example and the Nuclear Waste Fund was used in the hearing last week in the debate about trust us, give us the money we will make sure it then goes.
But the Nuclear Waste Fund is a perfect example of how we've failed to do that over the years and we're scrambling to just meet the minor demands on trying to get Yucca Mountain.
I will end with this, if we cannot bury high-level nuclear waste under a mountain in a desert, you know, we just can't put it anywhere in this country.
And so that's why we're glad that this national government has already made a decision to move forward. And we will not allow people to rob the fund to stop that from happening. And I yield back.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Shimkus. The gentleman from Utah, Mr. Matheson is recognized for three minutes.
Jim Matheson: Thank you Mr. Chairman. As someone who recognizes the important role that nuclear power plays in our energy mix today and in a carbon constrain future, I recognize it will play an increasing role.
I do have to voice serious concerns about the efficacy of a plan to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain. This plan has always been fraught with an abundance of faith and not enough fact.
Energy utility companies have been promised a national repository for nuclear waste for the past two decades and, unfortunately, the U.S. government has been more than happy to act as though this is a reasonable plan to deal with what I believe is a very serious problem.
And in my home state of Utah we have a hard time understanding why the transportation risks associated with moving nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain have never really been studied.
Given that 95 percent of the waste will go through my state if it's shipped by rail and 87 percent if we truck this waste, this is a huge concern to both me and my constituents.
I oppose the plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. First, I don't think that because it's a small state in terms of population that that should have been the reason why it's being stored there. And, I hate to say it, but I think that's been a big factor. I think the politics of this issue have trumped science.
Of Second, the waste is currently being stored safely on-site with plenty of room for more storage. In fact, the total amount of waste produced by the United States since 1950 would occupy the space of one football field.
And, finally, as I indicated, the transportation of this nuclear waste across the continent, in my opinion, creates more safety problems than leaving it where it is. Nuclear waste is currently stored where it is created in either dry cask storage or in water storage facilities.
My opposition to moving nuclear waste does not mean I oppose nuclear energy as part of our energy mix. As I said at the outset, I believe that technological advancements can help solve the problems we face with the storage of spent nuclear fuel.
I just don't think moving the waste to Yucca Mountain really solves the problem.
When we start to think about a carbon constrain future, I think we should be even more concerned about nuclear waste storage, because even if we were to magically open Yucca Mountain today, we wouldn't have enough room for the waste we are ready now.
Instead of throwing more money at this problem, and I think it's unbelievable how much money we've thrown at it already, we should recognize the concept of a sunk costs and we should move on, looking at realistic solutions in the near term, as well as a viable long-term strategy.
I've introduced a bipartisan interim storage bill, along with my colleagues, Mrs. Berkley from Nevada, Mr. Canon of Utah, and Mr. Bishop of Utah, that this committee should consider. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Reid and Senator Bennett.
HR 4062, the Federal Accountability for Nuclear Waste Storage Act, would require the federal government to take responsibility for possession, stewardship, maintenance, and monitoring of the waste.
Utilities would have six years to transfers spent fuel currently in pools in the dry cask in order to allow sufficient time for cooling and construction.
Mr. Chairman, I see my time is about to run out. I'd like to submit my full written statement for the record, but, again, I would say there are other options we should be looking at as a committee. And that's why I welcome this hearing taking place and look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Matheson. The gentleman from Oregon, Mr. Walden, is recognized for three minutes.
Greg Walden: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your holding this hearing. You do a wonderful job on these hearings and they're always interesting to learn about where we are in various segments of the energy world.
It seems to me the longer we wait to open Yucca Mountain, the more it's going to cost ratepayers. And the longer we wait, the more risk there is dispersed around the country for Americans.
But I have little faith that Yucca Mountain is going to move forward in a timely manner, especially as long as there's a fairly active and able Nevada delegation working away to prevent its opening.
And I guess I respect that. I suppose if I were in your shoes I might share similar views. But for the sake of the country, it seems to me we need a safe and secure depository that can be safeguarded and where America's nuclear waste can go and the sooner the better.
I noted this morning on WTOP they had, I believe it was the Maryland PUC Commissioner or somebody from the public utility commission, talking about how Maryland is going to run out of electricity at some point here and not be able to meet demand in the not too distant future.
And I think potentially that's the problem around the country. And as we look at alternative energy sources, and I'm a big advocate of those, I recognize there are limitations on how much wind or solar you can have.
And, certainly, other countries around the world have been able to utilize nuclear energy, although I think America may actually produce more electricity from nuclear power than any other country on the planet. So we're actually in the forefront, now we've just got to solve this disposal waste issue.
I think that's essential. And if we want to move forward on reducing our carbon footprint, then we have to look to energy production sources that are not either hydrocarbons, as in coal or gas.
And, certainly, most of our peaking plants now are gas fired and you're going to see continuing problems meeting that demand.
And so it looks to me like in the future, not only do we have to replace the nuclear power plants we have, we have to turn to that energy source to safely provide nonpolluting energy, but we need to get this storage issue resolved once and for all.
So Mr. Chairman, thank you. I do have to say, as a footnote, that I wish this subcommittee were also taking aggressive action right now to address America's lack of energy and cost of energy, not just in terms of speculators and gougers, but supply.
And I know that you share some of those concerns as well Mr. Chairman, in terms of adding to America's supply. I think the time has come.
Times have changed and, frankly, the economy is up on the rocks and a lot of it has to do with the lack of energy. And when you're paying $5.08 a gallon for diesel in Odell, Oregon or $4.39 or whatever it may be at this moment, family budgets are getting killed and this economy is suffering mightily.
You find it at the food counter. You find it at the gas station. And this Congress needs to take real serious action about adding to supply and changing the dynamic of the world market. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Walden. The gentleman from Kentucky, Mr. Whitfield, is recognized for three minutes.
Ed Whitfield: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for holding this important hearing. I want to thank our witnesses, Ms. Berkley and those on the second panel. We look forward to your testimony.
Obviously, energy is one of the key issues facing our great country today and we all recognize, with the increasing demand for electricity in the future, nuclear power must play an important role and it's quite disappointing that we still find ourselves in this quagmire relating to Yucca Mountain.
I guess the legislation to first start studying Yucca Mountain was passed in 1982, 26 years ago, and we still do not have this issue resolved.
It's unfortunate that the federal government, through its general funds, has to pay out awards to utilities because the government is not in a position to take all of this waste.
And I think the judgments already exceed $400 million. And, depending upon when the government is able to do it, it may lessen that figure or increase that figure. So, this is a timely hearing. It's one that we must move forward to with great dispatch. It's one of the most important issues facing our country I believe.
And we also know that if the NRC does not believe that we're going to be in a position to dispose of this waste, that they could reach a position where they may not license any more nuclear reactors.
So it's a vitally important issue and I thank the chairman for hosting. I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses morning.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Whitfield. We turn now to our first witness of the morning and that is the Honorable Shelley Berkeley, who represents the first District of Nevada.
Shelley, we're delighted to have you with us today. Without objection, your prepared statement will be made part of the record and we will welcome your oral summary.
Shelley Berkeley: Well, I thank you very much Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Upton and members of the committee. It's a pleasure to for me to be here and thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify.
While the ranking member spoke of a nuclear Renaissance, the people of the State of Nevada consider us going back to the dark ages. Nevada families are overwhelmingly opposed to our home state becoming this nation's nuclear garbage dump.
Over the past 26 years we have been fighting Yucca Mountain, Republicans and Democrats alike, for one simple reason, it is not safe. Nevadans know a bad debt we only see one.
Opposition to Yucca Mountain at home remains as strong as ever with polls showing more than 75 percent of Nevada residents saying they want to continue fighting this reckless and dangerous proposal.
That is because we recognize the danger of burying radioactive, toxic nuclear waste 90 minutes from the Las Vegas Valley, Nevada's economic engine, home to more than 2 million residents and a destination that draws more than 40 million visitors from around the globe annually.
Today you will no doubt hear much about the progress made on Yucca Mountain, including the submission of a license application to the NRC.
I would also ask you to keep in mind the projects bloated price tag, its history of chronic delays, failed quality assurance program, and a long list of scientific and technical shortcomings that continue to plague Yucca Mountain.
This includes e-mails sent by workers on the project containing statements such as this, "In the end," this is a worker on the Yucca Mountain project, "In the end, I keep track of two sets of files, one that will keep QA happy and the ones that are actually used. And, if they need more proof, I'll be happy to make up more stuff."
There are 1100 pages just like that. If you want to get chilled one day, read them. Is there any wonder Nevadans have an utter lack of confidence when the word sound science and Yucca Mountain are used in the same sentence?
Allow me to list just a few of the unresolved issues; no radiation standard. A federal court struck down EPA's original radiation standard of 10,000 years for Yucca Mountain. Current law requires that the standard covers at least 300,000 years, the period of peak danger.
Clean energy? I mean nuclear waste is radioactive! What is more dirty than that? The issue is key, this issue is key to determining Yucca Mountain's performance, yet DOE filed its application without finalization of this important safeguard.
Earthquakes and volcanoes, violent earthquakes and volcanoes have rocked Yucca Mountain in the past, there's no reason to think these threats will not occur again.
And I know Mr. Shimkus speaks of when he sees the desert Southwest, because he lives in the East, he sees a vast wasteland, but the desert Southwest has a very dynamic ecosystem that we may very well destroy.
No canisters currently exist that is capable of storing waste. Should this magic canister appear, plans call for billions of dollars of so-called drip shields to be added long after the waste has gone into Yucca Mountain.
The State of Nevada has argued, with good reason, that installing these drip shields a century from now probably won't be possible because of DOE's plan which relies on robots that have yet to be invented.
The Secretary of Energy actually had a press conference where he talked about an army of robots, this is like "I, Robot" in real life, going down into Yucca Mountain a hundred years from now because it's too radioactive and hot for human beings, that these robots will somehow magically put the drip shields over the canisters that don't exist either.
Transportation dangers, 50 million Americans will be at risk from thousands of nuclear waste shipments barreling down America's roads and railways, each a prime target for terrorists seeking to do harm or hunting for materials to make a dirty bomb.
And we know statistically, when thousands of shipments involving high-level nuclear waste are barreling down our roads, accidents will occur, leaving families and our environment vulnerable to decades of this threat and exposing communities to millions of dollars in potential cleanup costs.
And who pays for that? You and I, ladies and gentlemen, and millions of taxpayers in this country. Yucca Mountain is decades behind schedule. Waste shipments were supposed to begin arriving in Nevada in 1998.
Today that date has slipped to 2020 or beyond and it will be 2050 or later before all current waste is shipped. The price tag for Yucca Mountain has ballooned and the cost is growing.
I would note that it has also been nearly 2 years since DOE promised this committee it would provide an updated lifecycle cost analysis for Yucca Mountain. This revised estimate was originally to be delivered in 2006.
Promises were made, not only to members of this committee, but also to the GAO and my office. I would ask the DOE to explain why it has taken nearly two years to update this important cost analysis and why it failed to honor its pledge that this task would have been completed long ago.
Up until this point, we have been told to expect figures approaching $80 billion and I'm anxious to learn what the new amount is going to be. Not that 80 billion does not already qualify this project as a prime example of grade A, radioactive pork.
And let me suggest another thing to you, we are in the middle of a drought in the desert Southwest. We have no water and this project will take massive amounts of water. Where in heaven's name do we plan to get it from? Waste does not have to be moved.
Experts agree on one thing, waste can safely remain on-site for the next 100 years in dry cask storage. This ready-made option costs a fraction of Yucca Mountain's price tag and avoids the transportation risks.
Remember, on-site storage is already being done and the fact remains that waste is going to stay at existing and former plant sites for at least another decade or more, even under the rosiest of scenarios. This brings me, Mr. Chairman, to my key point.
Those looking at alternatives to current nuclear waste policy should not rush to move waste to Yucca Mountain given the evolution in thinking that is now taking place. This includes interest in the construction of a U.S. reprocessing plant that would treat waste before it is sent to a central repository.
Such a scheme raises the question of how many times we're planning to ship high-level nuclear waste. Will it go to Nevada first, only to be moved and sent to the reprocessing plant and then reshipped to my home state? And what about interim storage?
Do we move it from the plants to regional sites to reprocessing and then back to Nevada? Leaving waste on-site while options are debated leaves open future alternatives to burying this garbage in the Nevada desert.
And what about the myth that we are consolidating the waste in one place? Here is what the nuclear industry does not talk about, Yucca Mountain will not eliminate nuclear waste at plants where power is being generated. This is a patently false claim used to justify a flawed policy.
Simply put, as long as a nuclear power plant is operating, nuclear waste will remain on-site. We are not creating one repository to hold all of the waste for all time. We are just creating one more place where toxic waste will be stored. Under current --
Rick Boucher: If you could wrap up in just a short period that would be helpful to us.
Shelley Berkeley: Yes, I'd be delighted to do this.
Rick Boucher: Thank you.
Shelley Berkeley: Let me mention one other very important issue before I relinquish my time. Nevada's congressional delegation, and this is all the members, Republicans and Democrats alike are challenging 100 million no-bid, sweetheart contract for work on Yucca Mountain to a law firm with a blatant conflict of interest.
Twice we've asked, as a complete delegation, for the Secretary of Energy to recuse the firm of Morgan Lewis, which is both suing the taxpayers on behalf of the nuclear industry, while also representing the Energy Department on taxpayers' dollars.
We have yet to receive an answer. This acknowledged conflict of interest has also raised red flags at the Justice Department, which have questioned the awarding of this no-bid contract given the potential impact on cases involving huge liability claims.
The families that I represent, all of the families of Nevada, deserve fair treatment in the Yucca Mountain licensing process.
And the taxpayers of America deserve to have their financial interests protected. Morgan Lewis should be replaced and this $100 million contract put forward again with an open and fair bidding process.
And, Mr. Chairman, anything you can do to help the state of Nevada with that issue, we would be very, very grateful.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Ms. Berkeley.
Shelley Berkeley: You're very welcome. Thank you for your time and attention.
Rick Boucher: We appreciate your testimony here this morning, thank you. We will turn now to our second panel of witnesses for the morning. Mr. Edward Sproat is the director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste for the Department of Energy.
Mr. Michael Weber is director of the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mr. Robert Meyers is the principal deputy assistant administrator with the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dr. John Garrick is the chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Mr. Marvin Fertel is the executive vice president and chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
And Ms. Anne George is a commissioner with the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control and chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Committee on Electricity.
We welcome each of our witnesses this morning and thank you for taking time to share your views with us on this matter of concern to many.
Your prepared written statements will be made a part of our record and we would welcome your oral summaries and ask that your oral summaries be kept to approximately 5 minutes.
And Mr. Sproat, we've already commended you for your early filing of the application for a license with the NRC.
And we will be happy to hear your testimony this morning regarding that and other matters relating to the status of the Yucca Mountain project. We welcome you and we will be glad to hear from you at this time.
Edward Sproat: Good morning Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Upton and members of the committee. Thank you very much for inviting me to address the committee this morning.
I'd like to just talk about, briefly, the department's accomplishments over the past two years, since my last appearance before this committee in July of 2006. And I'd like to talk briefly about the challenges the Yucca Mountain program faces moving forward.
In the hearing, in July of 2006 when I was here, I gave you a number of intermediate milestones that needed to be accomplished before we'd be able to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
I also indicated that we would submit that license application by Monday, June 30, 2008. And I'm very happy to acknowledge the fact that we met or beat all the intermediate milestones except the one that we missed by two weeks. And we submitted the license application to the NRC on June 3rd of this year.
I'm very pleased to say we accomplished those milestones and submitted that license application despite the fact that over the past two fiscal years we received $200 million less in appropriations than what the president had asked for in FY 2007 and 2008.
And we were able to accomplish these significant milestones with significantly less dollars because of two things. One is that we've made significant improvements in how this program is being managed, in terms of its processes.
We've strengthened the management team. But the second key reason is because we have a great team that we've pulled together of both federal employees and contractors who were very focused on making these milestones happen.
And I believe we have turned the corner on the Yucca Mountain program in terms of having a good -- a top-notch management team and contractor team working together to make this program move forward.
This team, I believe that is going to be in place after I leave, is very well-positioned to be ready to begin construction on the repository three to four years from now if the NRC gives us a instruction authorization, which I believe that they will, based on our high quality license application.
Regarding new nuclear plants, which was referred to in a few of the opening statements, we have been working with the Department of Justice to develop an amendment to the standard contract so that those companies interested in building new nuclear plants could sign a contract with the Department of Energy to allow them to get a license for those new nuclear plants.
Suffice it to say, we would not sign the existing standard contract given that it requires us to begin accepting fuel in 1998. But we have reached agreement with DOJ and we have, in fact, started discussions with several utilities who are interested in building new nuclear power plants.
And I'd be glad to talk about that amendment if the committee so desires. We also have completed four reports, which are in the final stages of review, which I anticipate us issuing here in the next several weeks.
That's an updated total system life cycle cost estimate, the fee adequacy assessment for the Nuclear Waste Fund, a report on interim storage as requested by the House Appropriations Committee early this year.
And, finally, the report on the need for a second repository as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which requires us to submit a report to Congress on that subject by January 1 of 2010. All four of those reports are to be released imminently.
Let me just switch quickly to the key issues going forward for the program. Number one is funding and I know this committee is very well aware of this issue. I heard it in several of the opening statements.
Remember that we could be ready to proceed with construction of the repository in three to four years from now if we received a construction authorization from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This program has been funded historically at levels of between $350 and $500 million a year. That will not be sufficient to build and operate the repository, the Nevada rail line and operate this repository.
Based on our revised cost estimates, based on the design that we've submitted in the license application, and the cost estimates based on that design, we're looking at a budget authority requirement of between $1.2 to $1.9 billion a year for the construction period and into the operating period for the repository.
So you can see there's quite a gap between the 350 to 500 million that the program has received in the past, versus what it's going to need to actually be constructed and operated. The Nuclear Waste Fund has about $21 billion in it right now.
It received $750 million a year in fees from the utility industry and interest is accumulating at about $900 million a year. But this committee is well aware of the flaws in the budgetary framework for that fund. And I'm sure we'll be talking about that later in the hearing.
We have submitted legislation in the last two congresses to try and fix this issue. Unfortunately, that legislation has gone nowhere. But, quite frankly, I believe that now that the license application has been submitted there will be renewed interest in both houses to see if this issue can be addressed.
This is the key issue for moving Yucca Mountain forward. We've talked also briefly about the liability of the taxpayer associated with the government's nonperformance to the standard contracts. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act does not allow us to move spent nuclear fuel until the repository is in operation.
And, as a result, if we don't open the repository until 2020, which is now our best achievable date, we are estimating taxpayer liability to be about $11 billion at that stage of the game. Clearly, the least cost option for the taxpayer and for the rate payer is to move forward and get Yucca open as quickly as we can.
Other key issues that we're facing, just so the committee is aware and I'll be glad to talk about these if requested, land withdrawal. We do need to legislatively withdraw the land around the repository in order for the NRC to give us a construction authorization. That does require legislation.
And water rights is another key issue. And also, the 70,000 metric ton administrative limit on the capacity of Yucca Mountain. All of those have been addressed in the legislation that we've submitted to Congress in the last two congressional sessions.
To summarize, I believe we've made substantial progress with Yucca Mountain over the last two years. And we have submitted a very high-quality license application to the NRC. I have every reason to believe and expect that we will get an authorization to begin construction for Yucca in the next three to four years.
But we will need the help of Congress to restore access to the Nuclear Waste Fund and the fees, as was the original intent of Congress when it Nuclear Waste Fund was established in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
And I believe I have an excellent federal senior management team that will take this program forward after I leave. And I'll be very happy to answer any questions the committee may have when it's my turn.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Sproat. Mr. Weber?
Michael Weber: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, it's my honor to be before you today to discuss the process that the NRC is using to review the license application submitted by the U.S. Department of Energy for a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
The NRC takes no position, at this time, on whether the geologic repository can be built or operated safely at Yucca Mountain. That remains to be determined after our review of the license application.
I want to assure you, however, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, that we will base our decision on whether to authorize construction based on NRC's comprehensive and independent safety review and the results of a full and impartial adjudicatory hearing.
The NRC developed and maintains its high-level radioactive waste regulatory program consistent with our responsibilities under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
The Congress assigned the NRC the regulatory authority to determine whether to authorize construction on the geologic repository at Yucca Mountain and evaluating DOE's license application. NRC received that application, as Mr. Sproat said, on June 3, 2008.
Before NRC can begin its full safety review however, we must first decide whether to accept that application for review. NRC's review process is depicted on the screen. NRC will first decide whether the application contains sufficient information for the staff to commence a detailed technical review.
We must also decide whether to adopt DOE's environmental impact statement. If NRC staff accepts the application for review, we would docket the application, begin our formal safety review, and publish a notice of docketing in the Federal Register. We expect to make this decision by early September.
At that time, NRC staff would also determine whether to adopt the EIS, adopt the EIS in part and require further supplementation, or not adopt the EIS without further supplementation. A notice of hearing would also offer interested persons the opportunity to file petitions to intervene and to request a hearing.
NRC's evaluation of DOE's license application is proceeding. The NRC staff is prepared to conduct a detailed, independent, technical review of that application. Supporting NRC in the effort is the NRC Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analysis associated with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
The NRC staff would examine the license application to determine if the Department of Energy has shown the proposed repository would protect people and the environment in compliance with NRC's requirements.
The NRC would provide the opportunity for public hearings on DOE's application that would follow well-established rules and procedures.
NRC would decide whether to authorize construction of the proposed repository by objectively reviewing the information submitted, by making decisions on contested matters based on the record before it, and by maintaining an open and public adjudicatory process.
As the applicant, the department bears the burden of proving its safety and licensing case before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board during any hearing. The board serves as an independent adjudicatory arm of the NRC.
Parties may seek review of the board's decisions to the commission. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, NRC is also directed to establish safety and licensing regulations consistent with the standards for Yucca Mountain set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
NRC stands ready to conform our regulations to the final EPA standards when they are published. Without these final additional EPA standards, the NRC staff believes that it could begin to review portions of the DOE license application if we docket that application.
We could not, however, reach a decision whether to deny or grant the construction authorization of the repository without these standards in place.
In summary, the department bears a responsibility for demonstrating that regulatory and licensing requirements are met to protect public health and safety and the environment. The NRC must independently assess this demonstration before we could decide whether to authorize construction of the repository.
NRC's ability to reach this important decision in a timely manner does depends on three things; EPA's issuance of final environmental standards to which NRC can conform our regulations, timely and high quality responses to any request for additional information that NRC provides the Department of Energy and sufficient resources from the Congress for NRC to conduct its technical review and carry out its public hearing process.
I can assure you that NRC is committed to conducting a full and impartial review of the department's application. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Weber. Mr. Myers?
Robert Meyers: Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I would like to begin by briefly describing EPA's responsibilities for establishing standards for Yucca Mountain and why we have proposed revised standards.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 initially described the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies in the development of disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. EPA was identified as the agency responsible for establishing standards to protect the general environment for such facilities.
In the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress delineated EPA's roles and responsibilities specific to the federal government's establishment of the potential repository at Yucca Mountain.
Under that law, EPA's role is to promulgate standards for Yucca Mountain high-level waste facility in order to protect public health and safety.
Congress specified that EPA is to develop these standards specifically for the Yucca Mountain site and as the only such standards applicable to the site. The standards are to be incorporated into the NRC licensing requirements for Yucca Mountain.
And the facility would open only if, as mentioned previously, the NRC determines that DOE complied with the NRC regulations. In establishing EPA's role, Congress also stated that the EPA's safety standards are to be based upon and consistent with the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences.
EPA established its Yucca Mountain standards in June 2001. As required by the energy policy act, these standards addressed releases of radioactive material during storage at the site and after final disposal.
The storage standard would set a dose limit of 15 milligrams per year for the public outside of the Yucca Mountain site. The disposal standards consist of three components; an individual dose standard, a standard evaluating the impacts of human intrusion into the repository, and in a groundwater protection standard.
The individual protection and the human intrusion standards set a limit of 15 milligrams per year to a reasonably maximally exposed individual, or an RMEI, which would be among the most-highly exposed members of the public.
The groundwater protection standard was consistent with EPA's drinking water standards. The disposal standards were to apply for a period of 10,000 years after the facility is closed.
Dose assessments were to continue beyond 10,000 years and to be placed in DOE's environmental impact statement, but were not subject to a compliance standard.
The 10,000 year period for a compliance assessment was consistent with EPA's generally applicable standards developed under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It also reflected international guidance regarding the level of confidence that can be placed in numerical projections over very long periods of time.
As the committee may be well aware, in July of 2004 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia court circuit found in favor of the agency on all counts except one, the 10,000 year regulatory timeframe.
The court found that the timeframe of EPA standards was not consistent with the National Academy of Sciences recommendations.
The EPA proposed a revised rule to address the appeals court decision and the proposed rule would limit radiation doses for Yucca Mountain for up to one million years after it closes.
Within that regulatory timeframe, we've proposed two dose standards that would apply based on the number of years from the time the facility is closed. For the first 10,000 years the proposal retained the 2001 final rules dose limit of 15 milligrams per year.
And this is the level of protection of the most stringent radiation regulations in the U.S. today. From 10,000 to one million years we proposed a dose limit of 350 milligrams per year.
In the time since the closure of the public comment period, we have considered and continue to consider the more than 2000 comments we received on the proposed rule. A document putting forth our responses to all comments will be published along with the final rule.
Since the draft final rule was submitted for ___ review, we've also engaged in productive discussions internally and with other federal agencies about the important and complex issues that have been raised.
We look forward to concluding our analysis of the public comments and issuing a final rule. Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee and present this update on EPA's Yucca Mountain standards.
This completes my prepared statements and I would be happy to address any statements.
John Garrick: The questions asked by the subcommittee in the invitation letter about what happens next are very timely. I will do my best to present the board's answers to the questions as directly and concisely as possible.
First, Mr. Chairman, as far as the timing of licensing decisions is concerned, NRC can respond better to those questions. The subcommittee also asked about the roles of the various groups going forward.
The board's technical role was established in the 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The board performs an unbiased, ongoing peer review of the technical and scientific validity of DOE activities related to implementing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
We take an integrated view of the many different elements of DOE's program and focus on fundamental understanding as opposed to regulatory compliance. We report our findings and recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of Energy at least twice a year.
Because the board is completely independent, it does not have a direct stake in the development of a Yucca Mountain repository and it will not be a party to that licensing proceeding. That is as it should be.
But we make the board's body of technical work available by posting its letters, reports, congressional testimony, and meeting transcripts on our web site. Anyone can use this technical information, including parties involved in the NRC's licensing proceedings.
Consistent with its congressional mandate, the board will continue to report its integrated technical findings and recommendations to DOE and Congress. The subcommittee asked about technical issues that might cause delay or have budget implications.
As part of the ongoing evaluation, the board has identified several priority technical issues that, if addressed, could increase the operational effectiveness or feasibility, enhance the technical basis for repository performance estimates, or improve fundamental understanding.
I want to make clear, Mr. Chairman, that by identifying these issues, the board is not commenting on the sufficiency of DOE's license application. NRC will make that determination.
Furthermore, the board did not uncover any issue that it believes would have prevented DOE from submitting its license application for regulatory review.
I will begin by commenting on three pre-closer issues that, in the board's opinion, could significantly affect funding requirements and schedules.
Subsequently, I'll address some post-closer issues. First, DOE's use of a canister known as TADS that can be used for transportation, aging, and disposal of spent nuclear fuel may have merit.
However, a TAD that could be transported by truck does not currently exist, making the Nevada rail line necessary for transporting spent fuel to the repository.
DOE has acknowledged that constructing a Nevada rail line may present significant institutional challenges. The board has recommended that DOE initiate contingency planning to identify alternatives that can be implemented if delays aren't counted in building the rail line.
Second, DOE assumes that 90 percent of spent nuclear fuel will arrive at the repository in TAD canisters. However, utilities may need incentives to use TADS and some nuclear plants may lack the necessary infrastructure to handle large TADS.
Lower TAD utilization could adversely surface facility throughput and require construction of additional waste handling facilities or increase the amount of spent fuel placed in storage at the repository site.
The board recommends the DOE consider contingencies that could be implemented if TAD utilization rates are lower than the 90 percent assumed.
Third, repository performance estimates included in DOE's total performance assessment or a TSPA, depend on drip shields to prevent water and rocks from falling on waste packages.
However, DOE assumptions about drip degradation and repository tunnel tolerances may make installation of the drip shields, as they are currently designed, problematic. Let me identify some examples of post-closure performance issues.
They are the potential for deliquescence induced localized corrosion of the waste packages during the thermal pulse, questions about rates of general corrosion of waste packages, and the magnitude and variability of water recharge that occurs as a result of climate change.
We also will continue to follow DOE's work on seismicity and volcanism at Yucca Mountain. The board believes that addressing these issues is feasible and could reduce uncertainty and strengthen the technical basis for DOE's repository performance estimate.
Mr. Chairman, even though DOE has made significant progress over the last several years in enhancing the technical basis for the assumptions and analyses in TSPA, when estimating repository performance for up to one million years some uncertainty is inevitable.
Deciding how best to address such uncertainties can be challenging. DOE has addressed uncertainties by making what they consider to be conservative assumptions and using probabilistic representations of performance indicators. Probability being the language of uncertainty.
Another way to address uncertainties is to get more information so that the uncertainties can be reduced. In that regard, the board has suggested design changes, contingency planning and additional research.
In answer to your question about the schedule, schedules and budgets, the different approaches require different time and resource commitments.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the board historically has not recommended changes in legislation or policy because it views its role as providing needed technical contexts and information for decision-makers.
The board is very comfortable with its statutory mandate and takes its mission very seriously. We look forward to continuing our technical peer review.
On behalf of the board members, I thank the subcommittee for inviting us to participate in this hearing. We hope this information we have furnished today will be of use. And I will be pleased to answer questions.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Dr. Garrick. Mr. Fertel?
Marvin Fertel: Chairman Boucher, ranking member Upton, and members of the subcommittee thank you for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the nuclear industry.
My testimony will focus on the following issues; the role of nuclear energy in U.S. energy policy, Yucca Mountain as an important part of an integrated approach to managing used nuclear fuel, the Yucca Mountain licensing process, and, finally, some suggestions on improvements to the federal used fuel management program.
As many of you already said, the nation's 104 commercial nuclear power plants produce approximately 20 percent of our electricity. And nuclear energy is by far the nation's largest source of electricity that does not produce either greenhouse gases or other regulated air pollutants.
There's a growing consensus that any credible program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and worldwide will require a portfolio of technologies and approaches and that nuclear energy is an indispensable part of that portfolio.
While it is important to note that new nuclear plants in the U.S. will be developed based on electricity market fundamentals, the industry recognizes that the issue of safe and secure used fuel management is important to all stakeholders as they look at the benefits of nuclear energy towards meeting our electricity supply requirements and environmental goals.
Congress should have continued confidence in the industry's demonstrated ability to safely and securely manage used nuclear fuel. This performance provides a solid underpinning for the continued and expanded use of nuclear energy.
NRC's existing waste confidence rule provides a basis for addressing this issue in licensing proceedings. Absent the passage of legislation that codifies waste confidence from a national policy perspective, the basis for the existing NRC rule could be strengthened.
Therefore, the industry believes that it is appropriate that for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to update its waste confidence finding through rulemaking. In this regard, we look forward to the NRC expediting a rulemaking on this issue beginning this year.
The renewed interest in nuclear energy has led to a dialogue and growing consensus that an integrated approach to managing used nuclear fuel is needed.
This approach consists of the following elements; centralized interim storage; appropriate research, development, demonstration, and ultimately deployment of advanced recycling technologies to derive additional energy from used nuclear fuel and reduce the volume heat and radio-toxicity of fuel cycled byproducts; and ultimate disposal of those byproducts in a repository.
The growing interest in central interim storage and nuclear fuel recycling does not eliminate the need for geologic disposal of the residual waste products from recycling.
Though it certainly could significantly modify the waste forms volume toxicity and repository designs associated with the final disposal of those products.
The June 3, 2008, submittal of DOE's application to the NRC to construct the Yucca Mountain repository represents a very significant step in a robust and rigorous scientific process towards development of a disposal facility.
As others have said, Ward Sproat and the Yucca Mountain project team are to be complimented for their effort in completing and submitting the license application.
Like our experience in licensing operating reactors and other fuel cycle facilities, we expect the Yucca Mountain licensing process will be fair, open, transparent, and rigorous.
DOE must demonstrate to the NRC that the repository will protect public health, safety, and the environment; otherwise the repository will not be licensed.
The industry intends to participate as a party to the Yucca Mountain licensing process to help support a transparent, rigorous, and timely process and to protect industry and its customers' interests. Turning now to improvements in the used fuel management program.
The Yucca Mountain licensing process is only one part of a larger effort to safely and securely manage used nuclear fuel. The first improvement needed reflects the need to allow the use of the Nuclear Waste Fund that for its intended purposes.
Consumer commitments to the fund plus interest total $30 billion since 1983. To date, only a fraction of this money has been allocated for its intended purposes. Changes to how the contributions are made to and disbursements are taken from the fund are necessary.
Second, a more effective management structure is needed to assure that all three elements of the Integrated Used Fuel Management Program are effectively and efficiently carried out. Making the fund available will not, by itself, lead to success.
Congress should consider alternative management structures for implementing the Integrated Used Fuel Program that allow private sector principal and public/private partnership arrangements to be effectively applied to better program management and implementation in the future.
Industry urges the committee to hold hearings to explore potential future funding and management options for implementing this more comprehensive used nuclear fuel program.
In closing, I would, again, like to thank this committee for its diligence and commitment towards ensuring that our nation continues to benefit from the electricity provided by nuclear power plants and for its help in improving the implementation of and confidence in our nation's Used Nuclear Fuel Management Program. I'd be pleased to answer any questions later.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Fertel. Ms. George?
Anne George: Good morning Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Upton, members of the subcommittee. As the chairman indicated, I am a commissioner from the Connecticut Public Utility Control Department and as well I'm a member of the NARUC Electricity Committee, chairman of the electricity committee, and I'm testifying today on behalf of NARUC.
NARUC schools in the nuclear waste area are well-known. Our members have been here several times and in other committee forums and our message has been very consistent.
Simply put, the federal government needs to meet its obligation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to accept spent nuclear fuel from utilities and other nuclear generators in a timely manner for safe disposal.
The nation's ratepayers have upheld their end of the bargain struck in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act by providing more than $27 billion for use in constructing a nuclear waste repository.
Connecticut ratepayers alone have paid $766 million into the fund. Additionally, NARUC believes that the Nuclear Waste Fund should only be employed for its intended purpose.
Moneys in the fund should be utilized the sole purpose of supporting the opening of the Yucca Mountain facility in a timely fashion. NARUC was very encouraged with the filing of the Yucca Mountain construction license application.
We commend the DOE for their work on this project of this unprecedented scale. But as we move forward, we feel there is a critical need to adjust the financial basis for the program that will offer greater certainty than the year-to-year suspense of the current appropriations process.
And as many of the members in their opening statements commented, this current appropriations process doesn't seem to work well for this large-scale project.
The Nuclear Waste Project Act created a well-designed fund that was intended to collect fees based on generation of electricity from nuclear sources sufficient to pay for the safe disposal of commercial spent fuel in a geologic repository.
However, in reality, the fund is not operating as intended. There is no connection between the revenue collected from the country's ratepayers and appropriations for the project.
The appropriations that have been made available to the repository program have continuously been reduced by Congress. And we acknowledge and appreciate past attempts by the Energy and Commerce Committee to reform the way in which appropriations are made from the Nuclear Waste Fund.
And we also appreciate that the administration has twice proposed legislative remedy through the Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act. However, none of these reforms have moved forward to actual passage.
And NARUC is concerned that the current appropriations process will not be adequate to support the timely design and construction of the project. And I believe Mr. Sproat laid out well the budgetary disconnect between what the appropriations have been and what the program needs are.
I'm going to just touch on a few other matters of concern for NARUC members briefly. We encourage the DOE to develop a plan for DOE to move spent fuel from the decommissioned reactor storage sites that exist around the state.
We have one such site in East Haddam, Connecticut, the former Connecticut Yankee facility. With the removal of the spent fuel, these sites can be fully decommissioned and reclaimed for other beneficial uses.
Also, many people are fearful of the perceived risk of transportation of spent fuel and other high-level radioactive material.
NARUC believes that education on nuclear waste transportation is vital to increasing understanding and public confidence in the transportation of spent nuclear fuel.
In conclusion, we are pleased that the matter of the safety and suitability of the proposed repository is before the NRC, which is the agency designated by law and with expertise to make those determinations.
It goes without saying that NARUC wants the repository to meet all safety and health standards. At this time I will wrap up and I want to thank the committee for its attention.
Rick Boucher: Well, Ms. George thank you very much and thanks to each of the witnesses for your testimony here this morning. Mr. Sproat, let me begin my questions with you.
There is currently in law a 70,000 ton statutory limit on the capacity of Yucca Mountain. On what is that limit based? Was it an arbitrary decision or was it based on some technical characteristic of the site?
Edward Sproat: Well, Mr. Chairman, that limit is in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and, since I wasn't around at that point in time, I don't know exactly all of the logic.
But all of our studies, including our environmental impact studies, indicate that the technical capability of Yucca Mountain repository is at least twice that. And there have been some studies done by the Electric Power Research Institute that indicate three to four times that amount.
I will say however, that we are about ready to issue our report on the need for a second repository. And one of the things that report will point out is that in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as it is currently written, that 70,000 metric ton limit on Yucca only applies until a second repository goes into operation.
If a second repository is licensed and goes into operation somewhere else in the U.S., that 70,000 metric ton limit on Yucca expires.
Rick Boucher: Meaning that it's eliminated?
Edward Sproat: That is correct.
Rick Boucher: Meaning that more waste could then be stored at Yucca.
Edward Sproat: That is correct.
Rick Boucher: And that is current law?
Edward Sproat: That is current law.
Rick Boucher: Right. Dr. Garrick do you happen to know whether or not there was some technical reason related to the characteristics of the site itself, that that 70,000 ton limit was chosen?
John Garrick: No. The board --
Rick Boucher: Well, that's a sufficient answer. My time is a little limited, so let me just move on to something else. It's just a curious matter as to why that number was set and I'm looking for some rationale for it.
At the current level, I think the U.S. government has already assumed about $250 million in liability to the electric utilities for not having met the commitment which matured in 1998. That the high-level waste be taken by the federal government from those utilities.
And, obviously, that sum will grow over time, which leads to the question of whether or not it might be more cost effective to have an interim storage facility that would be under government ownership. That would then take that waste and store it in one central location.
I think another argument potentially for doing that is that the central storage of that waste might be safer than keeping the waste at a variety of sites around the country, each of which might have its own particular vulnerabilities.
Mr. Sproat, what is your view of that, first in terms of cost effectiveness and then secondly in terms of whether or not a central facility might be safer?
Edward Sproat: Mr. Chairman, we have completed our report on the interim storage option that the House Appropriations Committee asked us to prepare and it's in final review.
Essentially, what that report is going to say is that, number one, in order for the department to have the authority to proceed with interim storage at a central location we would need additional legislative authority.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifically does not allow us to take commercials and nuclear fuel until Yucca Mountain is operational. We do have authority to take ...
Rick Boucher: Well, understanding we would have to pass another law to make that possible, let's get to whether or not it's a good idea. First, what's your judgment on that?
Edward Sproat: I don't believe so and I'll tell you why. Number one is that, first of all, we would have to find a site for it.
And while some folks have said, well, we'll find a local community that would be willing to host it, I would say that Nye County in Nevada, which is the host county for the Yucca Mountain repository, would like to host the repository.
But the state, obviously, as Ms. Berkeley talked about, is very much opposed. The siting of an interim location and the gaining of not only local acceptance, but state acceptance and surrounding state acceptance is very problematic.
And when you take a look at realistically, number one, could that be done and, if so, how long it would take. At the point where we're now three to four years away from possibly being ready to begin construction of Yucca Mountain, I don't believe it's a cost effective solution.
Rick Boucher: All right. That's a thorough answer. Thank you. Mr. Myers, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the original EPA health and safety radiation standard and required that you formulate one based on a million year time horizon.
Where are you in completing that work and do you have a projected date by which that standard will be completed? Realizing that it has to be used by the NRC in reviewing the license application.
Robert Meyers: Yes Mr. Chairman, we're well aware of our role and responsibilities in this matter. We did go out in response to the district court case.
We've been in an interagency review in a number of discussions and we'd be hopeful to resolve those discussions in a timely fashion. So, we anticipate we'll complete our duties under the law and promulgate a final standard.
Rick Boucher: By what date, I'm sorry?
Robert Meyers: I probably cannot give you a specific date, sir. I would like to do that, but I'm not in a position to do that today.
Rick Boucher: Can you give me a suggested timeframe within which you might do that?
Robert Meyers: Well, this administration is committed to finishing its work, so --
Rick Boucher: During the course of this administration?
Robert Meyers: Yes.
Rick Boucher: Well, that's a very good answer. Thank you. My time has about expired. Dr. Garrick I have one additional question for you. A number of the members of this subcommittee have expressed an interest in exploring the possibility of having nuclear waste reprocessing.
And there are many technical issues that are associated with the potential for moving to that strategy. Before any further consideration could take place of that, I think we would have a range of technical questions that we would need to have answered.
Does your organization have any history of looking at that issue and is it within your charter to consider and perhaps answer the questions associated with reprocessing?
John Garrick: Our board has not looked at reprocessing. We have been pretty much focused on the issues associated with implementing the act and how it's being implemented in the current time.
The board certainly has the technical capability to address a much broader scope of questions relating to waste and waste handling than just analyzing the Yucca Mountain project. But we have not been asked to do that.
Rick Boucher: But if we were to pose questions to you, you are in a position to respond?
John Garrick: Yes.
Rick Boucher: Yes, all right. Well, that's good to know. Thank you. My time has expired. The gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Upton.
Fred Upton: Well, thank you Mr. Chairman. I'd like to follow up on two of your questions. First of all, Mr. Sproat, the question was raised about the 70,000 metric tons of waste in terms of a cap.
You indicated a couple of ways that the cap could be lifted. What are the estimates in terms of how much the repository physically can hold?
Edward Sproat: In our current documents, and because the Nuclear Waste Policy Act places that 70,000 metric ton limit on it, our license application only analyzes or designs the repository to that limit.
But our environmental impact studies looked at I believe it's 130,000 metric tons, and indicated that would not have any adverse environmental impact of that level.
We, at the department, haven't evaluated anything higher than that. But the geologists tell me, who know the site pretty well, there's plenty of room to go larger than that.
Fred Upton: Okay. Mr. Myers, you indicated that you thought that the radioactivity standard would be done yet this year or at least by January 19 of next year. Mr. Weber, if they don't issue a final radioactivity standard, will you be able to complete your review of DOE's license application?
Michael Weber: No sir.
Fred Upton: OK. Mr. Sproat, I just wanted a yes or no, there are a number of us that have supported taking the Nuclear Waste Fund off budget. If we were able to take it off budget, could you tell us how that might expedite construction of the repository?
Edward Sproat: We are at a point now where, now that we have a preliminary design that we've submitted with the license application, the shortest potential critical path to get us to opening a repository in the best achievable schedule is 2020.
And we have re-baselined the program based on receiving flat funding at about $495 million a year for this year and the next three years.
But then, at that point in time, ramping up the funding up to approximately $2 billion a year, and it varies from year to year. Every year we don't hit that funding profile, that ...
Fred Upton: At 2 billion?
Edward Sproat: ... date will push out.
Fred Upton: So, Mr. Weber, if the energy and water appropriation bill freezes things at the '08 levels, which I guess it's likely to do based on what we're seeing in terms of the Appropriations Committee now. How will even a one-year freeze impact the review of the license application?
Michael Weber: It will put the NRC's ability to complete the construction authorization decision in three to four years in peril. At that level of funding, which already started in fiscal year '08, its reduced below what the NRC projected would be necessary in order to support the three to four year review.
Fred Upton: By about a billion dollars?
Michael Weber: No sir, our appropriations are far less than --
Fred Upton: No, no, but the shortfall being about a billion dollars?
Michael Weber: I believe in fiscal year '09 the House Appropriations Committee boosted it by $36 million, which puts us in the range of support on an annual basis that we would need to meet the three to four year review cycle.
Fred Upton: OK. Ms. George, has your organization taken a stand on taking the funding off budget?
Anne George: Yes. It's something that we've supported in the past and we continue support. We think that, as Mr. Sproat indicated, when you look at what the program costs are and what is being appropriated, the match isn't there, obviously. And the best way to handle that is to take it off budget.
Fred Upton: I look at my state of Michigan, we have a number of different sites with nuclear reactors, two in my district. One is using a dry cask storage. Another one is about ready, they've received a license review to do that.
We have one facility that's closed as well up in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and they are storing high-level nuclear waste there.
How long do you think these -- has NARUC looked at the number of different facilities around the country, 104 I think different active reactor facilities. Have you all taken a stand in terms of how long you want that high-level nuclear waste stored in those temporary sites?
Anne George: At those individual sites?
Fred Upton: Correct.
Anne George: I don't think that we've actually -- the membership has looked at the exact length of time. No, I'm being told. I think most of the members are concerned about that disbursement of the storage at the individual sites.
And several states have been in litigation with the Department of Energy over the moving of the spent fuel to a permanent repository.
And so that is the membership's goal, is to move it as quickly as we can and we see the budget issues as being the biggest impediment right now to getting to that permanent repository.
Fred Upton: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Upton. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Gonzalez is recognized for eight minutes.
Charlie Gonzalez: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and Mr. Sproat and Mr. Weber, Mr. Meyers especially. I represent half of San Antonio, Texas. CPS energy is the municipally owned utility.
Part owner of the South Texas nuclear project and a co-applicant/partner with NRG on that application that's pending out there. One of the first in a long time.
I'm sure that you all are aware that a utility, especially municipally owned utility, is a tremendous investment just in the application stage, huge. And for us, because it is municipally owned, that means that you have the city council that's involved, the ratepayers.
It's very political, unlike maybe other situations. But what I'm hearing here today is probably going to cause some concern. My fear is that it will be used and seized upon as an argument against expanding our portfolio to include greater nuclear capacity, which makes a lot of sense to me.
Mr. Weber, your testimony was that if everything doesn't go according to plan, and Mr. Sproat I think you said you don't really are going to be considering alternatives, an interim site, storage site, and so on. So, I think we're relegated, committed to the process.
But Mr. Weber is saying if things don't go accordingly and there isn't approval or there's delay, then that application sits there in limbo and delays what you are already viewing as a time process or timeline to approve an application indefinitely. Is that correct?
Michael Weber: If you heard that I said we were going to put it in limbo --
Charlie Gonzalez: No, no you didn't say you were going to put it in limbo, but it does have a consequence. What is the consequence?
Michael Weber: We will review the application should we docket it later this year. What will happen if the NRC is not given sufficient appropriated funds to support that review is it will stretch out that review schedule.
At this moment, we are preparing options for the commission in light of those projected resource forecasts so that the commission can decide which approach it chooses to take.
We're committed to fulfill our statutory responsibility to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Atomic Energy Act, but we need to do it responsibly. And responsibly to the NRC is to ensure the safety and security of those that would be directly affected by the repository.
Charlie Gonzalez: And that's understood. I mean one thing is funding, that you're adequately funded to go ahead and proceed with your duties and responsibilities and then those are predicated on, obviously, safety and health concerns and such. I think we all understand that.
But I think walking away from this hearing today, because I know I'm going to be hearing from my folks back home as to what was the end result of what we heard here. Are we on track?
When will all this, because, let's see if I've got this straight Mr. Sproat. If everything is according to plan, everyone is funded, the plans are up to muster, everything, you're looking at something being operational in 2020. Is that correct?
Edward Sproat: That is the best achievable date if everything went right, including the key issue of us receiving essentially an unconstrained cash flow for funding on the shortest possible critical path.
Charlie Gonzalez: All right. And Mr. Weber, if 2020 is not the target date, how does that impact the review and the approval of an application for expanding the South Texas nuclear project or any other project in the United States today?
Michael Weber: Mr. Gonzalez, you may be familiar with the waste confidence proceeding that the commission undertook decades ago now. The staff was recently directed by the commission to go back and revisit that waste confidence finding.
And we have recommendations now pending before the commission, including options for the commission to consider.
I think it's important to point out that as part of waste confidence, the NRC determined, now back in 1990, that spent nuclear fuel could be safely stored with a minimal to no environmental impact for at least a hundred years.
So, we have confidence that the material could be stored safely during that interim period, should there be a delay in the opening of the repository. There's still a need for the repository and that's why we're doing our part to do to be licensing review if we accept the application.
Charlie Gonzalez: So, let me see, if South Texas came on board in the 70s, we've got 30 years, so we've got about 70 years to play with. We're going to be okay then. But what I'm saying is I think delay doesn't really work to anyone's benefit.
And I'm going to share the concerns expressed by some of the individuals today with some of my colleagues, unfortunately, that I think the regulatory delays and such in implementing what we're going to have as a permanent site.
Now whether that was prudent or not, picking one huge site, even though there may be another one in the future, in retrospect maybe not. But we're really faced with this.
But the problem is that this particular aspect of nuclear energy is being capitalized as an argument against expanding our nuclear capacity. We really don't need that at this point in time. So you're responsibility and duty is huge. It could very well determine where we're going.
And I don't know where the judicial action may take place where you have a court that's going to -- you may have a judge that simply says, you still don't have anything in place as the permanent storage, so there are some concerns here.
And by judicial edict you could actually delay further implementation. This is actually pretty scary. But I'm going to go back and finish up my last couple of minutes with just a question to the first three witnesses, Mr. Weber, Mr. Myers, and Mr. Sproat.
And that was what my colleague and the ranking member actually alluded to and that was about alternatives. In his opening statement he made some reference to alternatives. Do we have any other options other than what we presently have on the table?
And, of course, what the opposition has expressed vigorously by Congresswoman Berkley, do we have any other options that are realistic, that would be timely and feasible?
Edward Sproat: I'll take my first cut at answering that Mr. Gonzalez. I believe the answer to that is, at today, no. Nuclear Waste Policy Act set up the federal government directional in spent nuclear fuel with disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste from the defense sector in a repository.
That is the only direction that the Department of Energy has at this stage of the game. It's the only direction it's had for the last twenty years. And we finally have gotten to the point where we are three to four years away from knowing whether or not that path is successful or not. Thank you.
Charlie Gonzalez: Mr. Weber and Mr. Myers, you all have an opinion as to alternatives?
Michael Weber: I would concur with Mr. Sproat. That's the law of the land as defined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. If there were a need to revisit that, leadership would come from the Congress as advised from the agencies that are before you.
Charlie Gonzalez: Mr. Myers?
Robert Meyers: As I stated in my opening testimony, our role here is to develop standards specific to this site and applicable to this site. So we are operating under that very specific authority in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Charlie Gonzalez: The information you glean from the roles that you presently play though I think are important, if in fact somewhere along the way someone is going to say are there alternatives? So I know you have that in mind. I don't think we're going to get any word on that today, but I'm going to yield back and thank the chairman.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Gonzalez. The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Shimkus, is recognized for five minutes.
John Shimkus: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate my colleague from Texas' line of questioning because you're complying with legislation that we passed. And the answer to my colleague's question is based upon the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Another question could be what legislative changes can we do to move more rapidly? What processes? We know we need more electricity generation for the future. We know that nuclear power should be part of the portfolio.
I have been told, you know we passed loan guarantees in a 2005 energy bill, as an incentive. I've also been told that the most important thing we could do is move aggressively to open Yucca Mountain, by the nuclear power industry.
It sends a signal to the industry that we're not going to force them to hold the stuff that we've agreed to take forever, to a point. So, I have a couple of questions. Mr. Sproat, why don't we consider the Yucca -- first of all, I want to respond to my colleague, Ms. Berkeley.
I live in the Midwest, not the East. And I live downstate Illinois, not in the Chicagoland where all of our nuclear power plants are except for one. But I've been to Yucca Mountain and it is a mountain and it is in a desert and there's nobody around there.
I mean that's true. Where, in the greater Chicagoland, I imagine there's 10 nuclear power plants with a population of about nine and half million people around.
I mean this doesn't take a hard jump. So why don't we consider doing a couple things? If we have to go to interim storage, why not interim storage at the Yucca Mountain site?
Rick Boucher: Mr. Shimkus, if we were to go with interim storage, that would be the place that would make the most sense to put it because we would eventually have to move the waste there any way.
However, in current law, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifically prohibits the development of interim storage at the Yucca Mountain repository.
John Shimkus: Great. Because my time is limited let me highlight that, Mr. Chairman, current law. These guys are constrained by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that is -- I mean if the citizens were listening to this debate they would just be bonkers.
I mean since 1982, doing this, to where we're at today to 2020, no wonder we have energy issues and no wonder we have energy problems.
But I think it would make sense and would also be great for the great state of Nevada if we had an interim site, we did a reprocessing facility right there, and then the high level remaining residue could go right into the mountain.
It's clear and we need to change the law to do that. Ms. George, we've talked about last week, again, going back to the other bill on carbon capture and sequestration, about the roles of the utility commissions on rates and what you have done.
And of course the rates that you have agreed to allow to be charged to go to this fund was also part of our debate. Why isn't there a movement by the utility commissioner to say the federal government has overcharged, they're not paying for the site, we're going to drop that rate off the bill?
Why don't you get some federalism backbone and call our bluff?
Anne George: Well, we have tried to do that by actually preventing the rates to be collected. We haven't gone that far, but that is the purpose of me being here today and NARUC, we passed several policy resolutions.
We've been here on the Hill testifying numerous times on this. I agree with you, it is outrageous that ratepayers have had to pay this fund for this number -- this rate for this number of years. And we are getting to a point, definitely, where we are fed up with this.
Now getting to the point of not approving the rate as not being fair and reasonable because it's not going to the intended purpose, obviously, that is something that would be the next step. But we have a federal law in place that allows for these costs and --
John Shimkus: But that is a thing that the state commissioner and the state could decide to do. I mean you could decide that so much money has gone to this fund and so little has been paid out, that the federal government is not meeting its obligations. We're not collecting it for the federal government anymore.
I mean states could make that decision. I'm just doing this based upon our debate last week of this other proposed bill on this charging and this regulatory issue on the transmission to help incentivize carbon capture and sequestration.
My opening statement talked about why trust us when we have this Nuclear Waste Policy Act that's been a disaster?
Anne George: And I ...
John Shimkus: And it speaks of probably letting the private sector do it versus us.
Anne George: And I understand what you're trying to get to. The way that the process is set up, the utilities make the payments and then the costs are passed through in the rates.
And so it's very difficult for the utilities commissions to not allow that portion. It's built into the rates and so I think what you're suggesting ...
John Shimkus: We're just looking for help.
Anne George: Yup.
John Shimkus: And this testimony is great, but sending price signals, I think, is even a stronger message. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Shimkus. I had that actually. The gentleman from Utah, Mr. Matheson, is recognized for five minutes.
Jim Matheson: Well, thank you Mr. Chairman. I have two or three lines of thought I'll try to fit into the five minutes. First of all, I'd like to ask unanimous consent to insert for the record a letter sent by the Nevada Senate and House delegation to the nuclear regulatory commission on June 5, 2008, relative to the license application.
Rick Boucher: Without objection.
Jim Matheson: And I wanted to read one paragraph in this letter because I think people might find this pretty interesting. It has to do with one of the engineering permits that was looking at bidding on DOE's contract to design the transportation aging and disposal canister component of the project.
They withdrew from bidding. And when they withdrew they said the following, "One reason for reticence in this matter is the materiality of the project which, as configured, it is a mission impossible."
"Consider DOE's mandate that the aging module at the geological repository operations area must be able to remain chemically stable under the Yucca site's design basis earthquake."
"At three times the acceleration due to gravity, the Yucca quake will turn an array of freestanding casks into a chaotic melee of bouncing and rolling juggernauts."
"A computer simulation of a freestanding earthquake, available upon request from us, will convince the reader of this publication that pigs will fly before the casks will stay put."
That's what one engineering firm thinks about one of the technical aspects of this project. And I think that it's important for us to put on the table that not all of these issues have been resolved as of yet.
The issue on interim storage, I just wanted to emphasize the bill I mentioned earlier has to do with on-site interim storage. It's not creating a new interim storage facility someplace in America.
It's talking about leaving it on-site where it is today. And I thought that the point Mr. Shimkus made about we've been sitting around since 1982 when the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed, things have changed since 1982.
Dry cask storage didn't exist in 1982 and it does exist now as a bona fide technology. And so I would ask, first of all, Mr. Sproat, have you, DOE, evaluated the cost effectiveness, because I know the chairman earlier asked about cost effectiveness of different options.
He asked about the cost-effectiveness of an interim storage facility if it was a separate facility. But I want to know about the cost effectiveness of leaving the waste on-site now that we have dry cask storage as a method we could use.
Edward Sproat: Mr. Matheson, it really becomes a question of, so, for how long are you going to leave it there and when would the federal government take up the costs of guarding it, storing it, and eventually it's going to move. And the longer you leave it there, the more it's going to cost to eventually move it to wherever you are going to move it to.
So I don't see interim storage on-site with federal ownership being a cost-effective solution because, in fact, it's not a solution. It's DOE keeping the status quo.
Jim Matheson: Has DOE even evaluated this? As DOE even evaluated the cost effectiveness of that?
Edward Sproat: We do that, because right now under the current legal construct, we are being held liable for incurred incremental costs at the utilities ...
Jim Matheson: All right, have you evaluated the cost-effectiveness of looking at putting it on-site, dry cask storage, or let's say another hundred years?
Edward Sproat: Not at every site, no.
Jim Matheson: OK, wanted to make sure that. Mr. Fertel, I noticed the Nuclear Energy Institute has predicted that 83 of our country's 104 nuclear power plants, that's 80 percent of the existing plants, will have on-site, dry cask storage by the year 2050.
The nuclear industry may very well be preparing for a future where Yucca Mountain isn't your only option for your waste. If Yucca repository is never built, will that be the end of the nuclear power industry in the United States?
Marvin Fertel: Well, I mean the Yucca license application just went in. The NRC will review it, but we believe that it's certainly licensable. But they need to determine that. So there's always the possibility in our country that something doesn't get a license from a health and safety standpoint.
So, no, it's not the end of nuclear power. What we need to do then is find alternatives if Yucca Mountain is not licensable. But we should go forward and see if it is licensable.
What you're seeing we're projecting is because DOE has not been able to begin to move used fuel starting in 1998 and, basically, our sites have to put in dry cask storage. That's why PUCs are allowing the waste fund contributions to go forward. If I can just respond to something Mr. Shimkus ...
Jim Matheson: I'm really running out of time.
Marvin Fertel: OK, sorry.
Jim Matheson: So I'd happy for him to respond to Mr. Shimkus if the chairman will grant us more time, but let me ask one more question. Mr. Sproat, you have indicated to Congress that you would provide a lifecycle cost estimates for the Yucca Mountain Project.
In July of 2006 you promised this committee that that type of item is in a report. In March 2007 DOE gave Congress a budget projection promising to submit a lifecycle cost report by late 2007.
In October of 2007 you reiterated that a report was coming during a hearing for the House Budget Committee. When do you think DOE will finally deliver the lifecycle cost estimate?
Edward Sproat: Within the next two to three weeks. That report is done, but we are planning on releasing that report at the same time that we're releasing the required annual fee adequacy assessment.
In other words, based on that total system life cycle cost estimate we take a look at the adequacy of the 1 mil per kilowatt hour fee.
We are releasing both of those reports at the same time because I think that way the Congress will get the total picture in terms of the cost impact and the fee impact of the cost of the repository based on the design we've submitted on the NRC.
Jim Matheson: Well, we anxiously await that report. Mr. Chairman, I've used my time. Thank you.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Matheson. The gentleman from Arizona, Mr. Shadegg, is recognized for five minutes.
John Shadegg: Thank you Mr. Chairman and I want to thank all of our witnesses. I want to begin by saying I'm somewhat frustrated.
As I've watched this Congress veil its self I've noticed that every significant bill, every politically charged bill, every major piece of legislation, and this seems to be a growing trend, that we move through the floor, we move through as a suspension.
And it's usually coupled with a motherhood and apple pie vote plus a terrible vote for the minority and nobody wants to allow any amendments and nobody wants to allow any regular order.
And I hope that the committee chairman and subcommittee chairman on the majority side are beginning to get frustrated at that break down, because I don't think that is a process that serves the country very well.
And it makes me wonder why I spend my time listening in hearings. I know I learn a lot from these gentlemen, but it's one thing to learn it. I need to also be able to use that knowledge to work to shape legislation that benefits the American people.
So with that caveat, let me begin by saying in a certain way I want to echo the words of Mr. Shimkus, which is that I think that if America were truly watching this hearing today they would be saying, excuse me, 1982 to 2020?
And I think they'd really be saying, are any of these witnesses or any of those members of Congress reading the daily news? Because we're in a crisis in this country. We have just discovered that oil has gone through the roof.
We know that at least a substantial number of Americans believe greenhouse gases are threatening our planet, and nobody is kind of awake. Nobody has recognized that nuclear power holds tremendous potential.
Last weekend I was home in my district, spent some time with a group of people socially and I got literally jumped by the people I was with by saying why aren't you doing more with nuclear? Why are you letting it sit there?
Why is France so far ahead of us? Why is Japan so far ahead of us? And they're kind of looking at me and saying I think you guys are completely negligent. You're not doing anything.
You're not moving quickly enough and you're kind of operating today in the world we had at least two years ago or maybe more, which is energy prices are reasonable. Americans can afford energy as it is.
We can afford not to produce more domestic energy. We can afford to set ANWR aside. We can afford to set off our coastal regions and we can afford to drag our feet on nuclear.
And they're looking at me saying what is it about today's reality you haven't figured out? Because we can't do that any longer.
It was one thing to indulge ourselves in taking oil shale and saying we're never going to produce it in the United States when gases were a buck 75, two twenty-five, two fifty, maybe three.
But congressmen, they're not three dollars now. They're not even four dollars now. They're not even four ten. That may be the average, but across the nation in many places they're way higher than that.
And you guys seem to be just kind of walking past the graveyard paying no attention. So I guess my question for any of you that would like to answer is if the chairman of this subcommittee or the chairman of the full committee were to say to you today, look, the presidential candidates have embraced nuclear.
Nuclear is where we need to go and need to go rapidly. How quickly could you -- could you produce a report for us saying here are things you can do to dramatically speed this process up, to get fuel storage in a central location where it's away from the population of Chicago and to get it done in X years and how small can that number be?
Because I think 2020, as the earliest, which you've posited today, is unrealistic given the change in the political dynamic we've seen in the last 90 days.
Rick Boucher: Are there any of you that would like to respond to that?
John Shadegg:I've got people at home saying we need an Apollo Project on energy. And I don't hear any Apollo Project on energy sentiment from any of you.
And maybe you haven't been given an opportunity to say, well, Congressman, here's what we could do. I'm giving you that opportunity.
Edward Sproat: Congressman, I appreciate the opportunity, I'll take a first cut. For those of us who are very strong supporters of nuclear power in this country, the reason I took this job is I very strongly believe that this country needs more nuclear energy. It has to be part of the strategic energy mix.
Michael Weber: So do I.
Edward Sproat:In my time in the industry, everybody who has been about anti-nuclear advocate asks the same question. Well, what about the waste? That's the key argument of why we shouldn't build any more nuclear power plants.
Well, we are three to four years away from answering that question and putting it to bed finally. And I and my team have been working very hard to get this license application together, to get a design for the repository that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will find acceptable.
I believe we've done that. And, unfortunately or fortunately, that's how long the process that's been set up by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act takes.
And I can't speak for Mr. Weber, and he can't forecast how the NRC process is going to come out, but I do believe we have set this country on a path of potential success of having an approved repository in the next three to four years.
So the issue of, well, what about the waste is no longer a question to be asked of the nuclear industry and nuclear power in this country.
John Shadegg: Will a slow walk budget process by this Congress slow that down or keep it at that number? And would it get faster if we did an Apollo Project and gave you the money you need it?
Edward Sproat: It will not get faster. It cannot get faster than 2020. In other words, that is the fast as it can go. Even if Mr. Weber completes his review in three years, we get the funding requests per the cash flows, the numbers I've sent up here before. 2020 is the earliest.
And, quite frankly, that's at risk because of litigation. We know there's going to be additional litigation and we know there are other issues that the state of Nevada and others will bring up, particularly around water rights and transportation. But it can be done.
John Shadegg: Anybody else want to comment?
Robert Meyers: I think Congressman, let me just posit that if we do an Apollo Project, it probably should be focused on supply and we should deal with the waste.
But I would not throw all my energy onto waste. Waste is managed very safely right now. I think Ward said it right, opponents to nuclear energy always say what about the waste. Actually, people in our industry say that sometimes. We're focused on the wrong thing.
John Shadegg: I think I heard somebody, today, I think I heard Mr. Weber said we can store it for a hundred years with the technology we have right now, safely.
Robert Meyers: Right and we don't want to do that. We do want it moved and we need to move forward and, as the ranking member said, there's a lot of thinking and smart thinking about maybe recycling that we should be looking at.
And as Dr. Garrick just mentioned, geologic repositories are basically unanimously supported by the scientific community as the ultimate place to go with waste. What we need to do is move forward in a plausible way.
I think for the American public, you're going home and speaking to them, they're looking for plausibility and action. The action we need in this country is right now in the electricity space is supply.
Improve transmission and improve supply, and that's everything from renewables to nuclear power. And your discussion on carbon sequestration that Mr. Shimkus mentioned, clearly, you can do it technically, but we're just not sure you can do it on the scale you need to do it.
So, as a nation, our challenge in the electricity supply side, that's the Apollo project I would honestly think we need to look at.
And I think the thought of changing some of the waste legislation to make it more plausible would also be very helpful, not just from a licensing of Yucca, but for also looking at alternatives that have been mentioned.
John Shadegg: Thank you. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Rick Boucher: Thank you very much Mr. Shadegg and I want to thank each of our witnesses for the time you've spent with us today and you're very thoughtful responses to our questions.
And to the three agencies represented here, let me thank you for your diligence. You're doing the very best that you can with serious constraints from a budgetary perspective.
That's particularly true of our first two witnesses. And we acknowledge that and appreciate your work on behalf of the public. With that, thanks to each of the witnesses and this hearing is adjourned.
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