Energy working group to assess nuclear waste recommendations

The commission issued a report in late January that called for establishing at least one site to permanently dispose of the country’s nuclear waste, an issue that has vexed policymakers for decades.

Much to the chagrin of many Republican lawmakers, the Obama administration abandoned work on the long-planned and long-delayed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The GOP has alleged that the decision was motivated by politics, noting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and others oppose Yucca.

While the commission took no position on Yucca Mountain, the panel’s co-chairman warned earlier this month that establishing a permanent storage site is essential.

“We cannot really claim to be a leader in nuclear power if we can’t solve one of the fundamental problems with nuclear power: what to do with nuclear waste,” former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), a commission co-chairman, said during a House hearing.

Though the administration and Congress remain far from coming to an agreement on how to manage the country’s nuclear waste, Chu promised work to make progress.

“[W]e are working to address the challenges at the back end of the fuel cycle,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “Finding a workable way to end the stalemate over the safe and secure storage of used nuclear fuel is one of the most important things we can do to support this vital industry.”

President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request includes $770 million for the Energy Department’s nuclear program, including money to implement the commission’s recommendations.

Chu spoke Wednesday at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

Southern Company, whose subsidiary Georgia Power owns the plant, won a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this month to build two new reactors at the plant — the first new reactors greenlighted for construction in the United States since 1978.

The department offered Southern Co. in 2010 a conditional $8.3 billion loan guarantee for construction of the new reactors. Chu said this week that he intends to finalize the loan guarantee as long as the company meets key milestones.

Chu’s speech Wednesday was intended to show that the Obama administration is committed to nuclear power as part of its broad “all of the above” energy strategy.

“Nuclear power is a vital part of our energy mix and we must do everything we can to develop it in a safe and secure manner,” Chu said.

“America has the opportunity to lead the world in clean energy technologies and to provide a foundation for our future prosperity. What you are doing here at Vogtle will help us compete in the global clean energy race and provide domestic, clean power to U.S. homes.”

Chu announced that the department is offering $10 million for “innovative, cross-cutting research and development for advanced nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies.”