E&E News: Matsui Introduces Interim Storage bill

Aiming to remove spent fuel from decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear plant

A new House proposal from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) would authorize the federal government to pursue an interim storage program for the nation's nuclear waste.

The legislation, H.R. 3136, avoids the controversial Yucca Mountain site, breaking the legislation connection between the stalled Nevada repository and interim storage.

House-passed nuclear waste legislation she co-sponsored with Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) last year would have addressed both interim and long-term storage.

With Democrats in control of the majority, the dynamics of the nuclear waste debate appeared to have shifted away from Yucca, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed to any legislative movement to revive the project.

That may mean interim storage represents the quickest path forward for the removal of nuclear waste stored at the decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in Matsui's district, she argued.

"The current nuclear storage reality is not sustainable," Matsui said in a statement. "Given the current political climate, the STORE Nuclear Fuel Act is a responsible and balanced solution that will positively impact communities across the country right now."

The bill would authorize the Department of Energy to take title of the nuclear waste spread across 39 states in order to begin the process of consolidating it at interim sites.

Since the Obama administration closed Yucca Mountain in 2010 after deeming it unworkable because of intense state opposition, more than 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste sit at reactor sites across the country.

Matsui's bill would direct the federal government to develop those interim sites itself or through a private company, either way using a consent-based process "with prioritization given to the private sector unless DOE can demonstrate that it is able to develop a site in a more cost-effective manner than a private company," a bill fact sheet said.

The legislation would prioritize the removal of nuclear waste from decommissioned reactor sites first. That would place Rancho Seco near the top of the list.

House appropriators have taken a similar approach in their fiscal 2020 Energy-Water Development bill. It would provide $25 million for DOE to advance the interim storage option.

A full House vote on whether to fund Yucca Mountain is expected next week during floor consideration of the five-bill spending minibus, although Democrats defeated a similar amendment in committee.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to consider Matsui's bill along with the bill from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and from Shimkus. A hearing time has not yet been announced.

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