The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held a hearing on July 31, 2013 titled Oversight of DOE’s Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste. It has taken me a couple of days of intermittent watching to work my way through the archived video of the hearing, but the last interaction between the Secretary and Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) made me happy that I powered my way through all 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Rep. Whitfield states that he does not envy Moniz’s assigned task of attempting to explain the basis for the Administration’s unilateral decision to halt all work on the Yucca Mountain geologic repository in clear violation of the 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.
I liked the way that he clearly assigns the blame to the three individuals that defied the law — Senator Harry Reid, former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko (a former Reid staffer), and President Barack Obama. I also liked the way that he described how those three people have betrayed the Americans that have been dutifully paying the fees as imposed by the federal government.
I wish that someone during the course of the hearing had pointed out that before 1982, there was a much more productive plan for used nuclear fuel. Soon after his 1976 election, Jimmy Carter invalidated the plan to recycle valuable used fuel that nuclear technologists had developed during a thirty-year long research and development program.
Carter’s action was as unilateral as the one taken 32 years later by President Obama; he made permanent a temporary Executive Order initially issued by President Gerald Ford. That order stated that the US was not going to recycle used nuclear fuel. That order made the hundreds of millions of dollars invested by private industry into the Barnwell, SC recycling facility essentially worthless. The West Valley, NY facility had already been effectively regulated out of business by ever escalating seismic requirements and the Morris, Il facility had been declared inoperable based on an inability to meet excessively stringent requirements.
Aside: If my characterization of the requirements as being excessively stringent conflicts with what you might have heard about the history of the Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant (MFRP), you might be interested in watching this video. Galen Winsor, one of the key plant designers, provides his interpretation of the circumstances of the decision to use the plant as an interim storage facility without operating it to recycle fuel. http://youtu.be/8VvGw1tkT1Q?t=17m45s End Aside.
Secretary Moniz might be excused for being a little tired after more than two hours of pointed questioning, but I was amused when he stated that the Administration has already decided on an SMR license – that is not within their authority. Besides, I work on the project that he is referring to; our scheduled filing date is still more than a year in the future AND the minimum review time for that application is being discussed as 30 months from the time it is docketed. I expect there will not be an SMR license issued in the US for at least four more years.
I take issue with Moniz’s attempt to give the Obama Administration credit for enabling nuclear energy with a loan guarantee. There has not been a single dime provided by the federal government to support the Vogtle project.
On February 16, 2010, with much fanfare, President Obama held a press conference announcing that the Department of Energy had selected Southern Company’s Vogtle project as the recipient of a conditional $8.3 billion loan guarantee.
It is now August 3, 2013, more than three years since the selection was announced. The DOE and Southern Company are still in negotiation over the conditions of that loan; I do not expect that they will ever reach an agreement. So far, the deadline for reaching an agreement has been extended two or three times. I hope I am wrong.
It is also worth remembering that it has now been 8 years since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized $18 billion for new nuclear power plants. The $8.3 billion conditional loan that is still being negotiated is the only indication of any movement to make that money available for enabling the restoration of the ability to construct new nuclear power plants in the United States.
To be fair, President Bush took no action for the first three years after the Energy Policy Act authorized the loan guarantee program. There has been a bipartisan lack of support for new nuclear energy facilities in the United States for at least four decades.
PS – For the record, I am not a fan of Yucca Mountain. I think moving used nuclear fuel from its current location is a wasteful expenditure unless it is being moved directly to a recycling facility. Since we don’t have one of those yet, I am perfectly content with letting the material wait patiently in the location where it was used.