Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding the Committee’s first hearing on this very important matter. The operation of Yucca Mountain as our nation’s long-term high level nuclear waste repository is important to meeting our environmental, energy, and economic needs.
I am pleased that this follows the hearing that I held in my Subcommittee on natural gas prices. Clearly, we have not harmonized our policies. The energy challenges that we face today and into the future threaten our global competitiveness. I am calling for a “Second Declaration of Independence” to make us less dependent on foreign sources of energy, and nuclear power plays an integral role.
Nuclear power provides about six percent of the electricity consumed in my state and about 20 percent nationally. It is emission free power, and by increasing its use, we could continue at a greater rate our progress in cleaning up the air.
That is why I am pleased that this Committee acted to include three pieces of legislation that I authored with Chairman Inhofe in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to provide for the safe and secure growth of nuclear power. These provisions – NRC reforms, security, liability insurance, and human capital – combined with the energy bill’s sections on risk insurance, production tax credits, and loan guarantees provide the foundation for the construction of new nuclear plants. In fact, NRC Chairman Nils Diaz recently told me in a meeting that the NRC expects to receive applications for up to 11 new plants by 2009.
Other countries have also recognized the advantage of constructing new nuclear plants. China, which continues to grow and threaten our economic security, expects to construct 20 new nuclear reactors by 2010.
The challenge for nuclear energy is its waste. This problem was recognized when the nations’ top scientists met in Princeton in 1955, leading us to begin searching for the most optimum site for nuclear waste disposal.
Frankly, I am extremely frustrated that more than 50 years later, we have yet to solve this issue. We have spent $8 billion of ratepayer funds with over $250 million contributed by Ohioans to the Nuclear Waste Fund. Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requiring that a final disposal facility be operational by 1998. The President, Senate, and House in 2002 designated Yucca Mountain as the site.
So where are we today? Spent nuclear fuel is stored at sites across the nation – including 790 metric tons in Ohio – instead of one safe and secure repository. Eight years after the law requires a storage facility to be operational, the Department of Energy has yet to even submit a license to the NRC.
The really exasperating part is that while we are providing numerous regulatory incentives for the growth of nuclear power – we are providing a significant disincentive by leaving the waste question unanswered.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot more questions than answers: lack of a DOE license application to NRC, EPA’s million year standard, reprocessing, and many others.
I look forward to the testimony from the witnesses and hopefully getting some answers to these questions.