U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/14/2006
 
Statement of Admiral Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, U.S.N. (Retired)
President and CEO
Nuclear Energy Institute
Oversight Hearing on NRC’s Regulatory Responsibilities and Capabilities for Long- and Short- term Spent Fuel Storage Programs

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Carper, and members of the subcommittee, I am Admiral Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, U.S. Navy (retired). I serve as president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Thank you for this opportunity to express the nuclear energy industry’s views on legislation to address the management of used nuclear fuel, and in particular the role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush affirmed the nation’s commitment to “safe, clean nuclear energy” as part of a diverse portfolio that will meet America’s future electricity needs. A long-term commitment to nuclear energy will make the United States more energy independent and ensure the diversity of our energy sources. We appreciate the leadership of this subcommittee in continued strong oversight of the NRC and its key role in enacting the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This legislation encourages diversity of energy sources, including such emission-free sources of electricity as nuclear energy.

SUMMARY

I will focus my testimony on the following key issues:

- First, The Department of Energy (DOE) must make visible and measurable progress in implementing an integrated national used nuclear fuel management strategy. The Yucca Mountain, Nevada, repository is a critical component of any such integrated strategy. This progress will help ensure that the expanded use of nuclear energy will play a crucial role in our nation’s strategy for meeting growing electricity demand.

- Second, S. 2610 can play a key role in addressing the challenges facing the DOE and NRC on the Yucca Mountain project, as well as help set the stage for new nuclear plants.

- Third, Congress must take additional actions (beyond S. 2610) to support the removal of used fuel from commercial nuclear plant sites as soon as possible, together with steps to accelerate development of new technological approaches that would substantially benefit disposition strategies. In formulating this policy, the Administration and Congress must consider potential impacts on NRC in terms of resources and capability, and make sure they don’t detract from the agency’s current effort in the new reactor licensing arena.

NUCLEAR ENERGY MUST PLAY A KEY ROLE IN OUR NATION’S ENERGY FUTURE

The nation’s energy portfolio must include clean, reliable and affordable energy sources available today, such as nuclear energy. Nuclear energy offers several unique advantages. It is the only expandable base load energy source that does not emit carbon or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during operation. Nuclear energy safely and reliably provides price stability for electricity customers as the prices for fossil fuels fluctuate. It also provides exciting new opportunities in areas such as hydrogen production and plug-in hybrid automobiles. Although our nation must continue to employ a mix of fuel sources for generating electricity, we believe it is important that nuclear energy maintain at least its current 20 percent contribution to U.S. electricity production. Maintaining that level of production will require construction of a significant number of new nuclear plants beginning in the next decade. There is strong, bipartisan support for a continuing significant role for nuclear power. More than two thirds of the public supports keeping nuclear energy as a key component of our energy portfolio. Many in the environmental community recognize and endorse the role that nuclear energy can play in controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Recently, a new coalition of organizations and individuals has been formed to educate the public on nuclear energy and participate in policy discussions on U.S. energy issues. The Clean and Safe Energy coalition—co-chaired by Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman—includes business, environmental, labor, health and community leaders among its more than 200 members.

PROGRESS MUST BE MADE ON YUCCA MOUNTAIN

Although the industry shares the frustration of many members of Congress with the pace of progress on the Yucca Mountain repository program, we are encouraged by the leadership and management recently provided to the program by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Deputy Secretary Clay Sell and new Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Edward Sproat.

They are leading the transition from a purely scientific program, focused on site characterization and site approval at Yucca Mountain, to one that is preparing to enter a rigorous Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process. DOE is also adopting industry best practices to ensure that it will submit a high-quality application to the NRC. It plans to include in this application a revised surface facility design that will handle fuel in standardized multipurpose canisters. Using multipurpose transportation, aging and disposal (TAD) canisters in combination with associated surface facilities will reduce the need to handle used fuel at Yucca Mountain and increase safety. It is important that DOE complete these efforts, file a high-quality repository license application in a timely manner and, ultimately, complete the transition to a design, engineering and construction project.

The nuclear industry is encouraged by the ambitious schedule announced by the department on July 19 for submission of the license application by June 30, 2008, and the “best-achievable” construction schedule that could have the repository begin receipt of used fuel in March 2017. The industry encourages DOE to submit the application as soon as possible to facilitate an expeditious NRC review.

Although we welcome the department’s determination to meet this “best-achievable” schedule, it is important to recognize that it depends on several factors, most of which are outside the department’s direct control. These include:

· congressional appropriations consistent with administration requests;

· an NRC construction authorization decision consistent with the timelines contained in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act; NRC must be provided with the necessary resources and appropriate management focus to meet these timelines, while also considering license applications for new nuclear plants and potential fuel cycle facilities. We are confident that this Committee will provide the oversight and direction to see that this can be accomplished.

· the length and outcome of any derivative litigation;

· obtaining any necessary federal or state authorizations or permits for the repository and the transportation system;

· the department’s achieving a nuclear culture consistent with that required of any successful NRC licensee; and, critically,

· enactment of the Nuclear Fuel Management Disposal Act.

Failure to take legislative action will seriously jeopardize progress toward managing the country’s used fuel. Delays in some cases will prevent the repository’s operation by 2017.

S. 2610 Supports Nuclear Power’s Future Role in Our National Energy Strategy

The industry strongly supports S. 2610, since it includes those provisions of the comprehensive legislative proposal submitted by the administration that relate to issues within this committee’s jurisdiction. These provisions should be enacted along with many of the additional provisions in S. 2589, which Chairman Inhofe introduced along with Chairman Domenici of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Industry representatives previously have testified in detail on the provisions of S. 2589, including land withdrawal, changes in the regulatory process and the budget treatment of the Nuclear Waste Fund. We also identified the need to address contract provisions related to used fuel for new nuclear plants.

Waste Confidence Is Affirmed

The nation must be confident that policies are in place to ensure the safe, secure storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel byproducts. This waste confidence determination is reflected in NRC rules requiring an NRC finding of “waste confidence” to support various licensing actions. However, such an approach creates uncertainty because NRC regulations and licensing decisions are subject to litigation, and the issue is one of public policy, not regulatory or technical determination.

Managing the nation’s used fuel is a firmly established federal obligation and, as such, is a matter of broad national policy under the purview of the elected representatives of our country’s people. There is solid scientific and technical justification to affirm waste confidence. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed four decades of international scientific consensus that geologic disposal is the best method for managing used nuclear fuel. Congress approved a geologic disposal site at Yucca Mountain in 2002.

In the Energy Policy Act, Congress included provisions that encourage the construction of new nuclear power plants, demonstrating public policy confidence in the nation’s ability to manage used reactor fuel in the future. In addition, the Energy Department has safely operated a geologic disposal site for transuranic radioactive waste near Carlsbad, New Mexico, and 34 temporary dry-cask storage facilities for used nuclear fuel have been licensed at nuclear power plants. The first such facility has been operating since 1986. Congress should codify “waste confidence” as called for in S. 2589 so that the NRC need not address this broad public policy matter as a routine regulatory matter.

Artificial Constraints on Repository Operations Are Eliminated

Currently, there is an artificial limit of 70,000 metric tons (MT) on the amount of nuclear waste materials that can be accepted at Yucca Mountain. The Environmental Impact Statement for the project analyzed emplacement of up to 105,000 MT of commercial nuclear waste products in the repository. Additional scientific analyses suggest significantly higher capacity easily could be achieved with changes in the repository configuration that use only geology that already has been characterized and do not deviate from existing design parameters. Advanced nuclear fuel cycle technologies could provide significant additional capacity for disposing of waste products in Yucca Mountain.

Decisions on licensing and operation of a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain should be based on scientific and engineering considerations through DOE technical analyses and the NRC licensing process, not on artificial, political constraints. Given the decades of study and the billions of dollars invested in Yucca Mountain, it makes sense that we fully and safely utilize its full potential capacity, rather than developing multiple repositories when there is no technical reason to do so. S. 2610 will allow the nation to do just that by lifting the artificial 70,000 MT capacity limit.

Clarity and Stability in the Licensing Process Are Enhanced

The NRC repository licensing process should be restructured to ensure that the proceedings are managed effectively, as called for in the legislation. First, there must be a reasonable, but finite, schedule for review of the authority to “receive and possess” fuel that would follow approval of the construction license. This would be consistent with an established schedule for the initial review of the construction license application and could avoid dilatory procedural challenges that would undermine the government’s ability to meet its contractual obligations and avoid the significant costs of delay.

Second, clarification must be provided as to what activities are authorized to develop used fuel management infrastructure prior to the NRC’s granting a construction license, including the construction of a rail line to connect the Yucca Mountain site with the national rail network. Regulatory authority for the transportation system needs to be clarified as well.

Third, the hearing process for the authorization to receive and possess fuel should be simplified to provide for clear and concise decision making.

This disciplined approach to the licensing process is wholly consistent with the regulatory approach developed over the past several years by the NRC to license other nuclear facilities.

Environmental Reviews Are Appropriately Focused

The legislation takes into account the unprecedented scope and duration of environmental reviews that will accompany the construction licensing process for the Yucca Mountain facility. It appropriately separates those non-nuclear issues related to infrastructure support activities from repository licensing and operations.

The legislation also recognizes the stringent standards that will apply to the repository with respect to release of radioactive materials and the nature of the materials involved. These standards preclude the need to apply additional measures to protect public health and the environment. In effect, no compelling reason exists for imposing additional review requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Finally, the legislation seeks to avoid the issuance of duplicative air-quality permits; it provides exclusive jurisdiction on this issue to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also affirms that the project is in the public interest and directs that the State of Nevada consider water permits on that basis.

ADDITIONAL ACTIONS BEYOND S. 2610 ARE NEEDED

In addition to S. 2610’s provisions, we encourage Congress to direct DOE to incorporate features into its repository development plans that maintain flexibility for future generations to make informed decisions based on operational experience, changing energy economics and technological developments. It should be made clear that it is the intent that the repository design retains the ability to monitor and, if needed or desired, retrieve the used fuel.

The nuclear energy industry supports enhancements to the Yucca Mountain repository that would provide greater long-term assurance of safety and permit DOE to apply innovative technology at the repository as it is developed. These enhancements include:

· extensive monitoring of the used nuclear fuel placed in the repository and its effects on the surrounding geology for 300 or more years;

· the ability to retrieve used nuclear fuel from the facility for this extended period; and

· periodic future reviews of updates to the repository license that take into account monitoring results and ensure that the facility is operating as designed.

DOE already has committed to facilitate the use of these elements in its repository planning. According to the department’s final Environmental Impact Statement, for a period of 50 to 300 years, the federal government will “collect, evaluate and report on data” to assess the performance of the repository and the ability to retrieve the used fuel within the facility, if desired. In addition to monitoring material within the facility, DOE will conduct tests and analyses to ensure that the repository is constructed and operated according to strict guidelines. Although DOE is pursuing these elements, congressional direction on the proposed enhancements would provide greater certainty on the scientific and regulatory oversight of long-term repository operation and the condition of the material stored there.

Doing so would require no modification to the existing federal statutory or regulatory framework. The Energy Department could include these enhancements as part of its “receive and possess” application and the commitment to complete them should be incorporated as a condition of the NRC license.

This direction will offer greater assurance to the public that long-term stewardship of used fuel at Yucca Mountain will be carefully monitored throughout repository operation. It also would allow DOE to take advantage of future technological innovations to improve the repository or provide for the potential reuse of the energy that remains in the fuel.

DOE Should Move Used Nuclear Fuel From Reactor Sites As Soon As Possible

Let me now turn to the issue of potential interim storage of used nuclear fuel prior to, or in parallel with, licensing and operation of Yucca Mountain. A number of proposals have been put forward in the past several months on this issue including:

· Section 313 of the fiscal 2007 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, as reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that would establish state or regional storage sites;

· report language included in the House-passed version of this legislation directing the secretary of energy to develop plans for interim storage potentially associated with nuclear fuel recycling facilities;

· S. 2099 introduced by Senator Reid and others that would indefinitely retain used nuclear fuel at reactor sites; and

· a Funding Availability Opportunity solicitation from DOE for localities interested in hosting recycling facilities that would include interim storage of used nuclear fuel.

The industry’s top priority is for the federal government to meet its statutory and contractual obligation to move used fuel away from operating and decommissioned reactor sites. The government already is eight years in arrears in meeting this obligation, and it will be at least another decade before the repository is completed. That failure is the subject of more than 60 lawsuits. Three of these suits, representing only a fraction of the reactor sites, have resulted in settlements or judgments against the federal government totaling $340 million for costs incurred.

Further delays in federal receipt and movement of used nuclear fuel and defense waste products could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion per year in life-cycle costs for defense waste sites, operating costs at utilities and Yucca Mountain fixed costs, exclusive of litigation damages already incurred, according to DOE.

While DOE moves forward to license, construct and operate the Yucca Mountain repository, the government must take title to used fuel and move it to secure federal facilities as soon as practicable. The industry believes that consolidation and storage of used nuclear fuel on an interim basis can provide significant benefits in cost, system integration, synergy with recycling/reprocessing technology development and instill public confidence in the federal waste management program.

Congress Should Enhance The Government’s Used Fuel Stewardship

In order to fully realize the benefits of nuclear power, and to address legitimate questions in the government’s used fuel stewardship, the United States must have a credible, long-term program to manage used nuclear fuel. This program should integrate a number of essential components, including:

1. the centralized disposal facility at Yucca Mountain, NV;

2. advanced proliferation-proof, fuel processing and fuel fabrication facilities and advanced reactors designed to extract the maximum possible energy from used nuclear fuel, and reduce the radiotoxicity and volume of the waste by-products requiring permanent isolation in the repository, and

3. interim storage facilities until the centralized disposal facility is operational, co-located with the advanced fuel processing and recycling facilities.

Used nuclear fuel is stored safely today at nuclear plant sites, either in pool storage or in dry casks.

That said, however, it is absolutely essential to public and state policymaker confidence that the federal government identify and develop sites for centralized interim storage, ideally linked to future reprocessing facilities, and begin the process of moving used nuclear fuel to these interim storage facilities. Further delays in federal receipt and movement of used nuclear fuel and defense waste products could cost taxpayers over $1 billion per year.

The industry believes that consolidation and storage of used nuclear fuel on a temporary basis can provide significant benefits in cost, system integration, synergy with recycling/reprocessing technology development and confidence in the federal waste management program.

The nuclear energy industry believes that the best approach would be for the federal government to begin to move fuel to Nevada now, close to the planned repository.

In addition, we urge Congress to evaluate alternative interim storage proposals. We recommend the following principles:

· Minimize the number of interim storage sites to reduce costs and maximize efficiencies of consolidation.

· Provide host site benefits, ideally linking interim storage to recycling/reprocessing technology development, as an incentive for voluntary participation.

· Recognize that while the Nuclear Waste fund could be used to pay for this interim storage, it should not be used to develop the complementary technology development.

· NRC must be provided with the necessary resources and appropriate management focus.

It appears to us that one or two interim storage sites that provide benefits desired by the host state and community are the appropriate approach. We are encouraged that DOE has advised Congress, in its solicitation for prospective sites for nuclear fuel recycling facilities, that some interim storage of used nuclear fuel will be necessary. Several communities have expressed initial interest in participating in such a project. We believe Congress should work with DOE, industry and potential host sites to determine the steps needed to facilitate the movement of used fuel from utility sites and incorporate appropriate provisions into the proposed legislation.

The industry does not believe that the approach suggested in S. 2099 by any measure meets the government’s statutory obligation to dispose of used nuclear fuel. In reality, S. 2099 provides no benefit; it dictates immediate movement of all used fuel at reactor sites into dry storage—a move that could add as much as $800 million a year over five years to the cost of producing nuclear energy. In effect, no used fuel moves off nuclear plant sites.

New Contracts for Disposal of Spent Fuel are Required

As utilities prepare to license and build new nuclear power plants, it is essential that appropriate new contracts for disposal of spent nuclear fuel between utilities and DOE be in place, reflecting developments since these contracts were originally drafted in the 1980s. For example, the 1998 acceptance date in the existing contracts must be revised in contracts executed for new plants to account for the future dates of operation of new plants.

Congress Should Legislate an Appropriate Disposal Standard for Yucca Mountain

The previously issued EPA disposal standard of 10,000 years was appropriately protective of public health and safety and was consistent with other hazardous material regulation in the United States. This standard was remanded by court finding on a technicality. Congress should legislate the appropriate 10,000 year standard.

Used Nuclear Fuel Recycling

Finally, let me address the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership program. The nuclear energy industry strongly supports research and development of advanced fuel cycle technologies incorporated in the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI). In anticipation of a major expansion of nuclear power in the United States and globally, it is appropriate to accelerate activities in this program. However, regardless of the success of AFCI technology, a repository will be necessary to handle defense wastes and commercial used nuclear fuel and waste byproducts. This will be the case regardless of any new fuel cycle ultimately developed.

President Bush has presented a compelling vision for a global nuclear renaissance through the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). This initiative provides an important framework to satisfy U.S. and world needs for an abundant source of clean, safe nuclear energy while addressing challenges related to fuel supply, long-term radioactive waste management and proliferation concerns. As recently introduced by DOE, it may be possible that currently available technologies could be used creatively to jump-start the development of the needed advanced nuclear fuel cycle technologies.

We appreciate the steps that DOE has taken to solicit industry views on the timing, direction and defining roles of interested parties in GNEP. The expressions of interest that DOE received last week will help the department and Congress make more informed decisions on the best way to proceed with research and development of these technologies. NEI, in its expression of interest, said it fully supports the technologies underlying GNEP and encourages the department to proceed with research, development and deployment of the consolidated fuel treatment center and the advanced burner reactor.

We recognize that Congress has important questions regarding this program. In particular, special attention needs to be given to how facilities would be licensed and the potential impact this could have on the NRC’s resources for major licensing actions on new plants and Yucca Mountain in parallel time periods.

DOE’s near-term focus for GNEP is to determine, by 2008, how to proceed with demonstration of advanced recycling technologies and other technological challenges. Consequently, the industry fully supports increased funding for AFCI in fiscal 2007. However, monies collected for the Nuclear Waste Fund should not be used, and it must be recognized that neither AFCI nor GNEP reduces the near-term imperative to develop the Yucca Mountain repository.

CONCLUSION

We must never lose sight of the federal government’s statutory responsibility for civilian used nuclear fuel disposal, as stated by Congress in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The industry fully supports the fundamental need for a repository so used nuclear fuel and the byproducts of the nation’s nuclear weapons program are safely and securely managed in a specially designed, underground facility. World-class science has demonstrated that Yucca Mountain is an eminently suitable site for such a facility.

A viable used fuel management strategy is necessary to retain long-term public confidence in operating existing nuclear power plants and to build new nuclear power plants to meet our nation’s growing electricity needs and fuel our economic growth. The public confidence necessary to support construction of new nuclear plants is linked to successful implementation of an integrated national used fuel policy, which includes a continued commitment for the long-term disposition of used nuclear fuel. This requires a commitment from the administration, Congress and other stakeholders to ensure that DOE makes an effective transition from a scientific program to a licensing and construction program, with the same commitment to safety. New waste management approaches, including interim storage and nuclear fuel recycling, are consistent with timely development of Yucca Mountain.

Enactment of S. 2610 is a critical prerequisite to implementing our national policy for used fuel management.