Bill Would Prohibit US Funds for Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

By:  Susan Montoya Bryan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. senators from New Mexico and Texas are proposing legislation that could affect efforts by private companies to build temporary storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S. as the federal government has yet identify a permanent solution for the radioactive material.

Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Ted Cruz on Wednesday introduced legislation to prohibit federal funds from being used to carry out any activities at private interim storage sites.

Federal regulators already granted a license for one facility in West Texas, and New Jersey-based Holtec International is seeking approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a separate multibillion-dollar facility near the state line in southeastern New Mexico.

Heinrich, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others have been vocal about their opposition to interim storage, saying their states stand to become a permanent dumping ground.

"That is not something my state is signed up for,” Heinrich said in a statement.

Cruz said that while nuclear power is a reliable way to help meet growing energy demands, communities in Texas have concerns.

Until a permanent repository is built, the federal government will continue to be responsible for the costs incurred by the owners of commercial reactors for storing the spent fuel at sites around the country. That liability has been estimated by independent federal auditors at more than $30 billion.

The Government Accountability Office in its report issued last fall stated that congressional action was needed to break an impasse and develop a permanent solution for spent nuclear fuel.

The auditors reported that about 86,000 metric tons of spent fuel is stored at 75 operating or shutdown nuclear power plants in 33 states and that the amount grows by about 2,000 metric tons each year.

The legislation would require the U.S. Energy Department to submit a report on possible locations or a description of a possible siting process for future federal interim storage facilities and repositories.

A companion bill also was being introduced in the U.S. House by Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico and August Pfluger of Texas.

Some nuclear watchdogs have argued that it would be safer to keep the material at the reactor sites rather than shipping it cross-country for temporary storage and then transporting it again if and when a permanent disposal site is created.

Officials with Holtec have argued that the operation would be safe, noting that multilayered transportation casks made of steel and lead would hold the spent fuel and they would be guarded.

The company did not immediately respond to questions about the proposed legislation.