By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso
May 29, 2019
Wall Street Journal
If the U.S. is serious about climate change, we must become serious about nuclear energy. Roughly 60% of America’s carbon-free energy comes from nuclear power. That’s more than three times the energy produced by wind and more than 18 times the amount from solar. Ninety-seven civilian nuclear plants generate roughly 20% of America’s electricity.
But nuclear energy creates waste. Spent nuclear fuel sits at 121 sites in 39 states. Some is from military operations, such as powering the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers. Most comes from commercial power plants. While this spent fuel poses no immediate safety or environmental threat to the public, we need a permanent solution for its disposal.
In 1982 Congress enacted a law to establish a nuclear-waste management policy. In 1987 lawmakers selected the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as the first disposal site. This remote location inside a desert mountain consistently ranked at the top of the list of suitable spots. It is located on 8,400 square miles of U.S. government-owned land, an area larger than Massachusetts. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s scientific and technical staff determined the site could safely contain high-level nuclear waste for at least a million years.
The project boasts support in Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located. So why hasn’t it moved forward? Politics. During the Obama administration, the president and Senate Democratic leadership choked off funding, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped work in January 2015. More recently, Democratic senators running for president have opposed the project in an effort to appeal to liberals in Nevada, an early caucus state.
It’s time to end the political games. The law requires the government to take responsibility for disposing of spent nuclear fuel. I have put forward legislation that takes important steps to complete the licensing of the Yucca Mountain facility. That starts with the NRC’s continuing where it left off in 2015. My bill also ensures that affected communities may have their concerns heard and resolved by a panel of independent experts.
The lack of progress on Yucca Mountain has become a roadblock for nuclear power in America. Eight states have passed laws against building new nuclear plants until the federal government demonstrates it will dispose of spent nuclear fuel.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Nuclear power is vital to the nation’s power supply—and to addressing climate change.
Mr. Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.