I commend Senators Voinovich and Carper for organizing yet another thoughtful roundtable on nuclear energy and - in particular for tackling the tough issue of spent fuel. I have long been a supporter of recycling and believe it holds great potential. I regret that I can't stay for the entire discussion, but I need to be in another hearing this morning.
I'd like to associate myself with the remarks commending Sen. Domenici on his service in the Senate, and most particularly for his fervent advocacy for nuclear energy. I have learned much from him over the years and have enjoyed partnering with him to reform the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Pete, you will be sorely missed.
Very briefly, I'd like to make 2 points on recycling. First, even with recycling, we will still need a repository so I believe any recycling effort should complement repository development, not compete with it. Progress on the repository may be slow, but it is moving forward and the license application is under review. Recycling efforts should not divert needed resources from the Yucca program or we will jeopardize that progress.
Second, any decision to deploy recycling should be based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis and made in the context of developing a safer and more cost-effective repository. Deploying recycling will cost tens of billions of dollars in addition to the cost of building a repository.
* Recycling should reduce the waste volume and radioactivity, but by how much and does it improve the safety and capacity of Yucca Mountain?
* What other waste will be created in the process, how will we manage it, and what will it cost?
Before asking electricity ratepayers or taxpayers to pay for recycling, I feel we should have a clear understanding of whether it is an economic investment right now or whether it will be at some point in the future when we have robust numbers of new nuclear plants under construction.
I believe answering these questions will give us a firm policy basis for making a decision of this magnitude and for countering criticism from anti-nuclear opponents who will fight any spent fuel solution. 25 years ago, in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress underestimated the challenges of solving this problem. That miscalculation is now costing taxpayers about $500 million dollars a year. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that any decision to reprocess builds on our existing progress, is given the soundest foundation possible, and the best chance to succeed that we can give it.