Draft House bill would direct millions to fund interim storage facilities

By Hannah Northey | 06/19/2015 07:32 AM EDT

The Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is crafting legislation that could attract hundreds of millions of dollars to a controversial nuclear waste storage company in his central Texas district, according to a draft obtained by E&E Daily.

The Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is crafting legislation that could attract hundreds of millions of dollars to a controversial nuclear waste storage company in his central Texas district, according to a draft obtained by E&E Daily.

Rep. Michael Conaway is preparing language that would authorize the Energy secretary to move forward with temporary sites to store nuclear waste with interest generated from the Nuclear Waste Fund, according to the draft. The NWF is a pot of money exceeding $30 billion that consists of fees from nuclear customers and was intended to be used to build the controversial and now-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Conaway’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.


The "Interim Consolidated Storage Act of 2015" would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to authorize the secretary to enter into contracts for the storage of certain high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, take title to the material and use interest from the Nuclear Waste Fund to move forward with interim storage sites.

The language could benefit Waste Control Specialists, a Texas company whose former owner, billionaire Harold Simmons, once dubbed President Obama the most "dangerous man in America."

A spokesman for Dallas-based WCS confirmed during an interview yesterday that the company has been working with Conaway’s office on the legislation. "We hope it will be introduced soon," said Chuck McDonald.

Conaway’s legislation, McDonald said, would protect money meant for Yucca Mountain by only using interest from the fund.

WCS is slated to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year for a license to build an interim storage site in Andrews County, about 350 miles west of Dallas. The site is located within Texas’ 11th District, which Conaway represents (E&E Daily, March 26).

WCS is at the forefront of a small group of project developers hoping to temporarily store nuclear waste for the Energy Department, thereby securing the federal government as a top customer. DOE has expressed interest in moving forward with interim storage as a way to stave off costly lawsuits the agency faces for failing to uphold 1980s agreements to take possession of waste piling up at reactors across the country.

Damages could be more than $20 billion by 2020 and up to $500 million annually after 2020, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

But WCS isn’t the only contender. Austin energy company AFCI Texas LLC has also proposed to build a facility in Culberson County in western Texas, and Holtec International Inc. in recent months said it intends to move forward with an underground storage facility in southeastern New Mexico, where the government could store casks of used fuel (E&E Daily, April 30).

Still, WCS appears to be in the lead, as New Mexico’s Democratic senators have voiced opposition to the project in the Land of Enchantment, and residents living near the site of AFCI Texas’ proposed project have voiced concerns about the project (Greenwire, June 12).

The push to secure funding for interim storage sites also appears to be a top priority of a host of companies with shuttered nuclear plants. Governmental Strategies Inc., a D.C.-based lobbying firm, has represented both WCS and the Decommissioning Plant Coalition, a group established in 2001 to represent the needs of shuttering reactors in Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maine, California and Massachusetts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

McDonald said WCS became acquainted with the decommissioning group, also dubbed the "Dead Plant’s Society," early on when seeking a waste solution. He also said he expects other co-sponsors to emerge when and if Conaway unveils the legislation.

"Members of the ‘Dead Plant Society’ have a lot at stake here, as well," he said.

While Conaway’s bill would align with a push in the upper chamber to move ahead with interim storage to relieve the government of costly lawsuits, it’s unclear how the language would mesh with a House discussion draft that would require the federal government to decide the fate of Yucca Mountain before proceeding with new interim storage sites (E&ENews PM, June 16).

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the leading House advocate for opening Yucca, said during an interview on Capitol Hill yesterday that he is crafting a nuclear waste bill but wasn’t behind the discussion draft.

When asked about Conaway’s effort, Shimkus and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in a joint statement said they are continuing to consider all solutions for advancing Yucca Mountain and improving the nation’s waste policies but aren’t working under a deadline.

"Getting Yucca Mountain operating and improving the overall nuclear waste management system is a top priority," Upton and Shimkus said. "We are soliciting feedback from all stakeholders on thoughtful solutions to address used fuel management issues, which could be incorporated into potential draft legislation. We are doing our due diligence and have no set timetable for introducing a bill or committee action."