Democratic News

“The Blue Ribbon Commission has performed a valuable service to the nation by thoroughly examining the nuclear waste management policy we have had in place, identifying its shortcomings and recommending a new approach to get progress in this area.  The Commission conducted its work in an open and transparent manner, took testimony from countless experts and stakeholders and assembled a solid public record to support its conclusions.  It has given us eight clear, concise and eminently sensible recommendations.      I support those recommendations.  I believe they provide us a solid framework on which we might rebuild the nuclear waste program.

“I have also supported including a pilot program for interim storage of spent fuel in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which is responsive to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendation that we begin prompt efforts to develop interim storage facilities, but I believe the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations are best viewed as a comprehensive package of recommendations.  They should be considered as a whole and enacted as a comprehensive and unified program.

“We are now trying to draft legislation to implement the Commission’s recommendations.  Senator Feinstein, Senator Alexander and Senator Murkowski have been working on this effort jointly with me.

“Most of our attention has been focused on the Commission’s recommendation for ‘a new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program.’  The Commission recommended that Congress create a new ‘single purpose organization,’ outside of the Department of Energy, but still within the Federal Government.  More specifically, it proposed formation of a government corporation and suggested that the Tennessee Valley Authority might provide a useful model to Congress.

“My first draft took the government corporation approach.  We have since considered other organizational structures that might be more effective and accountable.  We are trying to be mindful of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s admonition that ‘How a new waste management organization behaves and delivers on commitments is more important than what specific organizational form it takes.’

“With that in mind, we are trying to build into the new organization the attributes that will be needed to get the job done.  I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on an acceptable organization.

“The Commission also recommended that the new organization employ ‘a new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste management facilities.’  That is easier said than done.  The 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act provided for an alternative ‘consent-based approach’ to siting the repository and interim storage facilities, and it clearly has not worked.  The Commission acknowledged that fact.  But it pointed out that the current approach — forcing ‘a top-down, federally mandated solution over the objections of a state,’ hasn’t worked either.  The consensual approach has worked elsewhere and the Commission believes it can work here.  As the Commission report says, ‘with adequate patience, flexibility and political and public support, success is possible.’  I believe the Commission is right in that conclusion.

“The Commission called for prompt action on both deep geologic repositories and interim storage facilities, and the bill we have been discussing will provide for both.  The Commission wisely resisted the allure of reprocessing, concluding that there is ‘no currently available or reasonably foreseeable’ alternative to deep geologic disposal.  In short, we need a deep geologic repository.  Even if we were to reprocess spent fuel, with all of the costs and environmental issues it involves, we would still need to dispose of the radioactive waste streams that reprocessing itself produces and we would need to do so in a deep geologic repository.

“The Commission makes a strong case for interim storage, but ‘only in the context of a parallel disposal program.’  I agree with that conclusion.  Interim storage can play an important role in a comprehensive waste management program, but only as an integral part of the repository program and not as an alternative to, or de facto substitute for, permanent disposal.

“Those, in my view then, are the major recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission and the principal elements of the legislation we are working to get drafted.

“Passing any legislation this year is tough, and passing anything so controversial as a nuclear waste bill is not that likely in this Congress.  Even if we were able to get a bill out of the Senate, the House seems more interested in continuing the fight over Yucca Mountain than implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations.  But perhaps we can lay at least the foundation for legislation in the next Congress, if we are not successful in getting legislation this Congress.  The Blue Ribbon Commission has provided us with a sound blueprint.  I appreciate the assistance and cooperation from my colleagues – Senators Feinstein, Alexander, and Murkowski — and I am attempting to follow that blueprint.”

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 For more information, please contact

Bill Wicker at 202.224.5243


or Rosemarie Calabro at 202.224.5039


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