US Senator John Barrasso has released a discussion draft of legislation that would reform the country's nuclear waste management policy to ensure the federal government's legal obligations to dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste are fulfilled.Locations where US used nuclear fuel is currently stored (Image: EPW)
The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019 discussion draft would allow for the completion of the licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository for used nuclear fuel, as well as financial reforms to support the construction and future operation of such a project. It would also direct the Department of Energy to progress a temporary storage programme to consolidate used fuel from sites with decommissioned reactors while work on Yucca Mountain is under way. The draft legislation mirrors a bill passed in May 2018 by the US House of Representatives, with a bipartisan majority of 340 votes to 72.
"Nuclear energy is critical if we are going to reduce carbon emissions in a meaningful way," Barrasso, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), said. Legislation to support nuclear innovation - the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernisation Act - has already been signed into law but used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes remain in storage at multiple locations across the country, he said. "It's time for Washington to fulfil its long-overdue promise to permanently dispose of [used] nuclear fuel", he added.
The draft legislation would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which came into law in 1982, under which the federal government - through the Department of Energy - is responsible for all civil used nuclear fuel and its removal for disposal in a federal facility. The act was amended in 1987 to designate Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole site for the federal repository. With no federal repository available, used fuel is currently stored at 121 different locations.
Barrosso said the draft legislation takes "commonsense steps" to advance the licensing of the Yucca Mountain facility while strengthening the USA's nuclear waste management programme.
The EPW committee is to hold a public hearing on the draft legislation on 1 May.