By - Michael Drost

Texas lawmaker crafting proposal to direct funds for off-site nuclear waste storage

Energize Weekly June 24, 2015

The chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee is crafting a bill that would let the Department of Energy (DOE) direct funds into interim nuclear waste storage projects, a potential, short-term solution to the growing pile of nuclear waste being stored at U.S. nuclear power plants.

The bill, a draft of which was obtained by E&E Daily, would authorize the U.S. Energy secretary to enter contracts with companies seeking to store high level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, as well as use interest from the $30 billion Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) in order to move forward with interim storage sites. The bill is being written by U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), who’s district is home of one of the proposed storage sites.

The question of what to do with the nation’s nuclear waste has been at the forefront this year, with a bipartisan coalition renewing the push to license the controversial Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, as well as the reveal of several proposed interim storage sites ranging from New Mexico to West Texas.

The company most likely to benefit from Conaway’s legislation, Waste Control Specialists (WSC), has proposed expanding its waste facility in Andrews County, Texas, which is in Conway’s district, to take in spent fuel rods. The company is currently only permitted to handle low-level radioactive waste. WSC revealed to E&E Daily that they had been working with Conaway on the legislation.

“We hope it will be introduced soon,” said WSC spokesman Chuck McDonald. WSC is scheduled to ask the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the interim storage site next year.

The DOE has been looking into interim storage facilities since the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama decided to essentially abandon building the Yucca Mountain site. The agency faces a growing pile of lawsuits by nuclear operators, who for years were forced to pay into the NWF so the DOE could start building the Yucca Mountain repository, which is now stalled. Using temporary storage sites using funds collected in the NWF will help the DOE maintain its legal mandate to start taking possession of waste currently being stored on site at nuclear power plants across the country.

Though waste operators may ultimately get the federal government’s blessing to begin taking on waste, opposition to the interim storage sites has been fierce. In Culberson County, where Austin-based AFCI Texas is proposing an above-ground storage site, a town hall-style meeting was held for citizens who wanted to ask questions and voice concerns about the site’s environmental impact and long-term health effects. Not a single community member in attendance spoke in support of the proposal, according to NewsWest9.com.

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