Sen. Wyden wants nuclear cleanup commitment from next Energy secretary

DOE manages the nation’s waste from nuclear weapons and energy research. Of its $6 billion annual cleanup budget, it spends $2 billion on maintaining Hanford, which straddles Oregon’s border along the Columbia River.

Wyden said he would hold a hearing on the Hanford situation, though he did not offer a specific date.

The attention to Hanford — with which Wyden has a long history — comes as the chairman and three other senators are hammering out legislation on nuclear waste management. 

Wyden, Energy Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are working on that bill.

Wyden has said he is willing to separate military spent fuel — the kind at Hanford — from civilian, and has explored the idea of sending that military waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, located near Carlsbad, N.M.

He also says he is willing to move some waste near risky areas — such as fault lines — to interim storage sites, even without identifying a permanent waste repository.

That take is more aligned with Murkowski than the position held by now-retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chaired the Energy Committee last Congress and was involved in nuclear waste legislation negotiations.

Some senators involved in the talks disagreed with Bingaman’s insistence that moving waste to intermediate sites required having an application for a permanent repository filed with DOE.

Wyden’s openness to moving at least some nuclear waste to intermediate sites, therefore, could yield progress for the foursome working on the bill.

Still, what works in the Senate might not be true of the House.

The Senate framework would allow states that want to host a permanent waste dump to apply for that distinction. But House Republicans say any nuclear waste management bill would need to label Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the nation’s permanent repository, as outlined in a 1982 nuclear waste law.

Such legislation is unlikely to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) endorsement. The Yucca repository is unpopular in Nevada, and Reid vehemently opposes it.

Obama, with Reid’s backing, ended Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviews of a DOE application to use Yucca as the permanent waste site. Republicans called the move illegal, citing the 1982 law.