The hearing will come to order.
Today is our first oversight hearing on the status of Yucca Mountain, the designated site for the long-term storage of high level nuclear waste. We have before us today both the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other interested parties. We will be looking at a number of issues including the status of EPA’s revised proposed standard.
The way the process is supposed to work is for DOE to construct and operate the site, in accordance with the radiation standards that EPA sets, and the NRC is to regulate the facility. This Committee has the sole jurisdiction over the EPA and the NRC, and it is our responsibility to ensure that this site moves forward in accordance with the law, and that we can start shipping waste there as soon as practicable.
After personally visiting this site, I strongly support the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, and I encourage all members of the Committee to visit the location. It is amazing the amount of research that has been conducted on this site. It is certainly the most well studied mountain in the world.
How can we not support this site which has gained both national and international scientific peer approval with over 20 years and $8 billion dollars worth of scientific, environmental and engineering field work? How many more thousands of rock samples do we need to further re-confirm what is already known about this site’s engineered and natural barriers ability to safely contain radioactive materials for thousands of years?
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required the Department of Energy to provide a federal repository for used nuclear fuel no later than January 31, 1998. Here we are seven years after that deadline and there is still no central repository for spent nuclear fuel. In fact, according to current scheduling projections, the placement of waste underground at the Yucca site would not take place until 2015 at the earliest, and then only if it receives full regulatory approval and the budget requests are met. That leaves the United States at least 17 years behind schedule.
Meanwhile, millions of American families and businesses have been paying twice for this delay in storing used nuclear fuel. They pay once to fund the federal management of used nuclear fuel at a central repository and again when electric utility companies have to build additional temporary storage capacity at nuclear power plant sites because the federal government did not meet its obligation to begin moving the used fuel in 1998.
As a result, since 1983, American consumers have paid approximately $18 billion to this Nuclear Waste Fund through add-ons to their utility bills with nothing to show for it. Still, the federal government continues to collect nearly $700 million a year from electricity consumers. Future generations of Americans, our children and grandchildren, will pay a high price for continued inaction. We owe it to the American people to do better.
Nuclear energy makes up roughly 20% of our nation’s energy mix. If we are going to continue to grow this economy we need to take the pressure off of natural gas, expand our nuclear capacity, and increase our use of clean coal. In order to expand our nuclear capacity we have to solve the waste issue, which appears to be more of a political issue than a scientific issue.
In addition to the Federal agencies we will hear from several scientists, the State of Nevada, and Senator Reid, a former member and briefly Chairman of this Committee, in addition to being the minority leader. Finally I would like to point out to my colleagues that we decided against having the NRC testify today on the Federal panel since they will be regulating DOE. We will have them next week at a Nuclear Safety Subcommittee hearing chaired by Senator Voinovich, if members have specific questions for them about Yucca Mountain.