Back-End Working Group
The NIC Back-End Working Group covers key legislative, regulatory, and industry events that affect the Back-End of the nuclear fuel cycle.
The nation’s nuclear waste management program is at an impasse. As a result, there is no available disposal pathway for the nation’s growing inventory of commercial and defense spent fuel and high-level waste. Currently, spent fuel and high-level waste from both commercial and defense activities is stored at 121 sites in 39 states.
Upon taking office, the Obama Administration has sought to terminate the Yucca Mountain Project which DOE had submitted a license application to the NRC in 2008. Earlier, the Congress had designated Yucca Mountain as the site for the nation’s permanent repository and overrode a Nevada State veto in 2002 under procedures of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended.
After receiving recommendations from a Blue Ribbon Commission, the Obama administration has recommended a consent based siting approach to establish interim storage and permanent repositories. In response, the House has repeatedly by large, bi-partisan majorities voted to provide funding to the NRC and DOE to complete the NRC licensing process and the Senate has been mostly supportive in moving forward with initiatives on near-term consolidated storage.
In addition, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a Mandamus Order compelling the NRC to continue the Yucca Mountain license application review as long as there is available congressionally-appropriated funding and has also ordered the DOE to suspend any further collections of the Nuclear Waste Disposal Fee, unless and until, either the DOE implements the NWPA, as amended, and continues with the Yucca Mountain Project, or Congresses passes an alternative nuclear waste management program.
In 2015, the House has voted to provide additional funding for NRC and DOE to continue the NRC Yucca licensing process as part of the FY2016 Energy and Water Development (EWD) Appropriations bill. In the Senate, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported the FY2016 EWD Appropriations bill to the floor with provisions for consolidated storage, including consolidated storage at private-sector sites. The Senate committee bill was silent on funding for Yucca Mountain, although the Subcommittee Chairman expressed support for continuing the project. In addition, authorizing legislation has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is sponsored by the leadership of the Senate Energy and Appropriations Committees. The bill, S.856, is essentially identical to S.1260 which was generally modelled after the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission.
The bill’s defining features are that it would establish a new federal agency to implement the nation’s nuclear waste management program and that a consent based process would be utilized for securing both interim and repository sites. In House, there has been no comparable authorizing legislation introduced as of yet, although Rep. John Shimkus has stated that he intends to soon introduce legislation to move the Yucca Mountain repository forward and to provide enhanced benefits to Nevada.
USNIC Backend Task Force
The Council’s Backend Task Force (established in 2012) believes that it is urgently important to resolve the impasse over the nation’s nuclear waste management program. To that end , the USNIC Backend Task Force believes that Congress should address this issue is in bipartisan fashion and adopt a comprehensive approach that incorporates both interim storage solutions as well as provisions to move forward with the Yucca Mountain project.
Additional features of a comprehensive approach include:
National repository as a cornerstone
Completion of the Yucca Mountain license application including re-standing up an interim organization, benefits for host state and land withdrawal.
Pursuit of interim centralized spent fuel management approaches with funding for site evaluations by potential host sites
Federal benefits should be made available to host communities and states for interim storage facilities and permanent respositories
Assured funding and organizational reform e.g. FedCorp
Technology linkage to address future backend issues including closing of the fuel cycle – Recycling, Advanced Reactors
Transportation is a not a safety issue or logistical challenge
While dry and/or wet spent fuel storage is safe, costs of inaction is mounting ($20 billion liability; licensing moratorium; impediment to new nuclear plants; hamstringing of global non-proliferation initiatives)
The USNIC Backend Task Force is a project of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (www.usnic.org), the leading business consortium for new nuclear energy and involvement of the U.S. supply chain globally. The views above represent a consensus of the USNIC’s Backend Task Force and the Council, but do not necessarily represent the specific views of individual member companies and organizations.