Spent Nuclear FuelIn January, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Advanced Nuclear Technology Act of 2017 (ANTA). At the same time, the latest version of the Interim Consolidated Storage Act (ICSA) was introduced. These bills address two of the most important recommendations made in 2011 by then President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (the BRC). The nuclear power industry has also been waiting for legislation to break the logjam of bureaucratic red-tape that has hamstrung developing and building new-design reactors as well as to create a central place for used fuel that can be burned later. ANTA would speed up the development and licensing of new reactors, presently the most onerous of all regulatory processes. Ironically, one of the issues holding up deployment of new reactors has been an absence in location for waste so the timing of these bills also seems perfect.

If ICSA passes, the government could begin collecting and centralizing nuclear waste in the next five years. This bill is straightforward since spent fuel can be stored in dry casks for over 160 years and has been approved by NRC. But there are some Republicans in Congress that are determined to resurrect Yucca Mountain just as Nevada is determined never to host such a repository. Besides the original reasons for Yucca Mountain are gone – the spent fuel can be used again, and most of the high-level defense nuclear waste is no longer high-level.

Spent nuclear fuel is currently stored on-site at over 120 facilities in the United States. “In my district, the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station houses more than 3.6 million pounds [1,800 tons] of nuclear material right on the coast, along a fault line, on one of the largest U.S. military bases, in the heart of one of our most densely populated communities,” Congressman Issa noted. “Allowing it to stay there indefinitely is only asking for trouble. This is just one of hundreds of examples of similar sites nationwide.” The ball is now in Congress’ court. I just hope they realize it.