Settling for ‘Same Old’ on Yucca Mountain Funding?

COMMENTARY Environment

Settling for ‘Same Old’ on Yucca Mountain Funding?

Nov 19th, 2015 3 min read
Katie Tubb

Senior Policy Analyst

Katie Tubb is a senior policy analyst for energy and environmental issues in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

Before a bill to fund the federal government even makes it to the floor, some in the House are already ceding ground on funding for the completion of a license review of Yucca Mountain. Despite the Obama administration’s refusal to implement the program, Yucca Mountain was selected by Congress as a potential permanent repository to store spent nuclear fuel from the military and over 100 commercial nuclear power plants.

Regarding negotiations with key senators over energy and water development appropriations, Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said they were likely to opt for “the same old, same old.” That “same old” has been to let Yucca Mountain opponents have their way and withhold funding for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s permit review of a repository at Yucca Mountain.

Federal backsliding on nuclear waste management should be a problem near and dear to a vast majority of the United States House and Senate, where 66 of the 100 senators and over 380 of the 435 congressmen have nuclear waste in their states. This is not even to mention the rest of the Senate and House that would like to see the United States broaden its use of clean, abundant, and affordable nuclear energy.

Why is funding the NRC license review of Yucca Mountain in this appropriations bill important?

  1. The federal government has the legal mandate to carry forth a licensing process for a repository at Yucca Mountain under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as amended, which the courts have affirmed. The government’s delinquency on collecting nuclear waste has cost taxpayers $4.5 billion, with the further potential for as much as $50 billion in legal settlements and damages. Delaying Yucca Mountain further increases the likelihood of greater costs.
  2. There are more than sufficient resources set aside for the license review if Congress would allow access to them. Ratepayers have put aside billions of dollars for the express purpose of nuclear waste management, which the government promised to begin in 1998.
  3. Deep geologic storage of nuclear waste, like what Yucca Mountain offers, will be necessary no matter what waste management solutions nuclear power plants have in the future.
  4. If Congress wants to nix a repository at Yucca Mountain, it should do so in a transparent way by voting to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and with the full information about Yucca Mountain from the NRC. Seeing the NRC’s license review to the end does not mean “Yucca or bust.” It merely brings all of the information to the fore for Congress and others, like the state of Nevada and the nuclear industry, to make wise decisions regarding what’s next.

Of the amount appropriated to the NRC before the “same old” set in, only roughly $2.8 million (as of September 30, 2015) remains to finish what remains of the Yucca Mountain license review: Completing a supplemental environmental impact statement on groundwater (which the NRC has begun and expects to complete in spring 2016), public hearings, and other requirements, such as securing land and water rights, agreements for flight restrictions over the facility, and reporting requirements. The NRC anticipates that the process will cost another $330 million, an amount the president’s budget unsurprisingly did not request.

If Congress will not appropriate the funds to finish the license process, it should at least provide enough funds to carry the process into the next administration. Congress should also stipulate, as the House Energy and Water Appropriations bill did, that no funds may be spent on any alternative nuclear waste management plan or be used for “actions that irrevocably remove the possibility that Yucca Mountain may be a repository option in the future.” Congress should not be complicit in the Obama administration’s refusal to follow the law and should therefore fund the Yucca Mountain repository licensing review.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal