Federal Control of Nuclear Waste Hamstrings Industry
The nuclear power industry in the United States has been held back by a dysfunctional, federally controlled, centrally planned system of nuclear waste management, say the authors of a new study by The Heritage Foundation.
The report says the bipartisan Senate bill aimed at reforming nuclear waste management, The Nuclear Waste Administration Act, fails to address core issues plaguing the treatment of spent nuclear fuel.
The Heritage Foundation study, titled “Fooled Again: The Nuclear Waste Administration Act Preserves Futile Status Quo,” notes commercial nuclear plants provide 19 percent of the nation’s electrical power without emitting any carbon dioxide. The study was coauthored by Jack Spencer, a vice president at the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, and Katie Tubb, a research associate at The Heritage Foundation.
“Given developments in the past several years to get nuclear waste management on track, Congress must seize the opportunity to put forth an approach that takes advantage of market forces and that properly aligns incentives and responsibility for lasting reform,” Spencer and Tubb wrote.
The report argues the pending bill would make implementing reforms for necessary “rational,” long-term management almost impossible.
Calls for a New Direction
Sam Brinton, a member of the American Nuclear Society and senior policy analyst for the Bipartisan Policy Center, says nuclear waste currently is stored near roughly 100 nuclear power plants across the country and at sites controlled by the Department of Energy (DOE).
“Although nuclear waste can be safely stored in these locations, challenges on consolidating the waste to regional or national locations and the consent-based process which can lead to such consolidation are still being studied,” Brinton said. “We are excited to note that legislation on the topic of nuclear waste management continues to be proposed.”
The proposed legislation sets two objectives. It aims to “establish a new consensual process for the siting of nuclear waste management facilities; and to provide for centralized storage of nuclear waste, pending completion of a repository.”
“These will be essential steps in the successful management of nuclear waste.” Brinton said.
Federal Control Seen as Problem
The authors of The Heritage Foundation study disagree, arguing the fundamental stumbling block to long-term nuclear spent fuel management has been federal control of the process.
“The Nuclear Waste Administration Act does not solve fundamental problems in the current approach; it continues, if not expands, the dysfunction of waste management during the past 30 years,” Spencer and Tubb wrote. “Simply re-assigning responsibility to another federal bureaucracy does nothing to fix the root problem—namely that the federal government is responsible for commercial nuclear waste management and disposal rather than the industry itself.”