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For Immediate Release: July 30, 2013
Contact: Rob Thormeyer, 202-898-9382, rthormeyer@naruc.org

States Commend Bipartisan Nuclear-Waste Legislation, But Note Existing Law Still Remains

WASHINGTON—A bipartisan effort to relaunch the nation’s nuclear-waste program is commendable and will make improvements over the status quo, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners said today.

But in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, NARUC Committee on Electricity Chair David Boyd of Minnesota said State utility regulators remain skeptical that the government can make significant progress on storing spent-nuclear fuel, given its dismal record thus far.

“Since 1991, [NARUC] witnesses have continually testified that, ‘the government has our money—we have their waste.’ Fifteen years have lapsed since the 1998 deadline for the Department of Energy … to accept waste,” Commissioner Boyd said. “Instead of fulfilling their obgliations, the federal government has delayed and ultimately stopped all work on the program, even though ratepayers continue paying for a permanent repository, taxpayers continue paying for the DOE’s inability to dispose of the waste, and States continue storing the government’s waste. To put a finer point on it, the government now has even more of our money, and the States have even more of their waste.”

Still, Commissioner Boyd lauded Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski for pursuing this crucial issue. Although NARUC is still carefully evaluating the bill, The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 contains numerous provisions which will make “significant improvements” over the current situation. Such provisions include setting up a new, independent agency to assume responsibilities on siting, licensing, construction, and operation of such repositories, and the need for consent-based approach to finding a willing host for such a repository.

A few changes could make the bill even strong, Commissioner Boyd said. Particularly, the new oversight board should be given more assurances of independence. As currently drafted, members of the new independent oversight agency are subject to presidential appointments and Senate confirmations. A better approach is a single-purpose federal corporation with fewer political linkages, Commissioner Boyd said.

As recommended by the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, “a new management entity should be created outside of the Department of Energy with the sole purpose of managing the federal government’s used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste program,” Commissioner Boyd said. “Key attributes of that entity include clear legislative authority, access to needed funding, and insulation from political interference.”

Moreover, Commissioner Boyd noted that until when and if this legislation becomes law, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act “is the law and should be enforced.” Taxpayers and ratepayers “deserve to know whether the billions they’ve invested in the Yucca Mountain facility resulted in a safe site for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste, as years of independent scientific research indicates.”

 

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NARUC is a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include the governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC's member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.

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