US needs nuclear waste storage site

I have visited Yucca Mountain. It is located on federal property. The storage site would be 1,000 feet below ground in a remote desert location. Earthquakes have had little impact on this area and even less of an impact underground.

Today, we store nuclear waste at 121 sites in 39 states.  Nuclear power provides over 20 percent of our nation’s electricity.  That number is closer to 50 percent in Illinois.

In Illinois, eight pools house spent nuclear fuel rods from the 13 nuclear power plants, 11 of which are still operating.  Two pools are within 40 miles of downtown Chicago.  Is that really where we want to store nuclear waste?

In testimony before the Senate on March 30, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of physics Ernest Moniz called for these spent fuel rods to be stored in “dry” casks at regional government facilities. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) agreed.

While I agree with the government following its own law and taking control of nuclear waste, I question why we should throw away the $14.5 billion already spent on Yucca Mountain. We don’t need regional sites; we already have designated a consolidated government storage site!

Also on March 30, President Obama called for an increase in nuclear power as part of a clean energy standard. While I may not agree with a mandated standard, I know that nuclear power will continue to be vital in our nation’s electricity portfolio.

Unfortunately President Obama and his administration have unilaterally halted work on Yucca Mountain. They would rather see nuclear waste stored all over the country instead in Nevada – home of Senate Majority Leader Reid.

I believe the administration is failing to carry out the current federal law.  In order to find out exactly why the administration halted work on Yucca Mountain, under our oversight authority House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and I are proceeding with an investigation. On March 31 we sent letters to the Secretary of Energy and to the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In addition, as part of our oversight and responsibility to rate payers and taxpayers, I will be leading a delegation of legislators to tour Yucca Mountain later this month.

Past Congresses and administrations have approved Yucca Mountain. And while it has taken too long to become reality, this administration cannot rewrite the law or pull already issued permits away from it.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.