Senators push bipartisan bill to build nuclear waste dump

Senators push bipartisan bill to build nuclear waste dump
© Getty

A bipartisan team of senators introduced a bill Tuesday aimed at breaking the decades-long standoff over the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.

The bill directs the federal government to establish both temporary and permanent storage sites for waste from nuclear weapons and energy production.


The legislation would require consent from communities around a storage site, which would exclude Yucca.

The senators introduced their bill the same day that the Obama administration announced a change in its strategy for nuclear waste, saying it would seek to build separate disposal sites for radioactive material from nuclear power and for weapons from the Defense Department.

“Nuclear energy is a vital part of America’s energy portfolio and for far too long, the American taxpayer has been on the hook for the federal government’s failure to implement an effective plan to handle the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Trump administration denies permit for controversial Pebble Mine Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

“This legislation is an important step toward advancing the use of nuclear power in America,” she said.

The sponsors said their legislation builds upon a commission the Energy Department convened on the issue of waste disposal.

“I look forward to a dialogue that helps break the gridlock in a manner that’s guided by sound science and the important principles laid out by the Blue Ribbon Commission,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the panel and another sponsor of the bill, said in the statement.

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWe need a college leader as secretary of education As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony MORE (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are the other original sponsors.

The bill would establish a new independent agency to oversee federal efforts toward building nuclear waste sites.

That agency would have to build a pilot storage facility and begin the siting process for a permanent facility. It would collect fees from utilities to pay for the facilities.

The new agency would have to get consent from the state and local communities before building any waste site.

Also on Tuesday, the Obama administration said it’s changing its strategy on nuclear waste disposal as an attempt to confront the issue while avoiding the controversial Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

Under the new policy, the administration will seek to establish separate sites for permanent disposal of waste from nuclear power and from nuclear weapons.

President Obama directed Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizProgressive group slams Biden White House pick over tie to fossil fuel industry OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden | Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary | Obama alumni considered top picks for Biden Energy secretary Progressives urge Biden away from including Obama energy secretary in administration MORE to pursue the new strategy Tuesday to comply with the government’s legal obligation to build a waste site while maintaining the administration’s longstanding opposition to Yucca, which is also opposed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Nevada leaders.

“A separate repository for defense waste could allow greater flexibility in selection of a site, and greater flexibility could help keep costs down,” Moniz said in a Tuesday speech. “This proposal means that the timeline for disposal of defense waste and civilian nuclear fuel are no longer linked.”

It differs from the federal government’s decades-old policy that both energy- and defense-related waste should go to the same site, for which Congress designated Yucca in 1989.

Moniz said the new strategy is likely to allow one or both disposal sites to be operational more quickly than a single, multi-use facility would come online. Neither of the sites would be housed at Yucca, and federal officials would only build the facility in a state that approves of it.

The administration believes that the change it is making does not require approval from Congress, an Energy Department official said.