Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety
Oversight Hearing on the NRC’s Responsibility and Capability For Long- and Short-Term Spent Fuel Storage Programs
September 14, 2006
Mr. Chairman, today we are conducting a very important hearing. We are trying to get a better sense of whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be able to adapt to proposed changes in our nuclear waste storage policies. This hearing follows our March oversight hearing on the Yucca Mountain project. My state of Vermont, along with 39 other states, relies on nuclear power for a large portion of its electricity generation. It is an important part of our energy mix. Nonetheless, we must be realistic in dealing with the downsides associated with nuclear power. One of those downsides is finding a way to manage the waste. Throughout my time in Congress, I have continued to work for a comprehensive solution to our nuclear waste problem. Back in 1977, I introduced a bill in the House calling for a comprehensive nuclear waste disposal strategy. I maintained then, as I do now, that finding an effective solution to the waste problem is critical to the future of nuclear power in this country. I have consistently supported a central storage solution for nuclear waste. I continue to believe that it is essential that we find a permanent, geologic storage site if we are to continue to produce nuclear power. However, I have also made clear my view that Yucca Mountain will not provide this solution, and the project faces many challenges. I have been very concerned that the Yucca site will only take part of the waste, leaving some, if not most of the spent nuclear fuel sitting along the banks of rivers, beside our small communities and our large population centers. While I support the notion of a central storage site, others have proposed new strategies, including reprocessing waste, interim storage sites, and additional on-site storage. Each of those approaches raises serious challenges and concerns. Both the Governor of Vermont and the Attorney General of my state have contacted me in opposition to recent proposals for new interim storage. In the context of Yucca Mountain, I have strongly opposed legislation that would limit the public process, influence scientific studies or rework regulations to fit our efforts to build that project. I have the same view for all legislation that would manage nuclear waste. If Congress cuts corners, we will undermine our efforts to develop a sound, permanent and comprehensive solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal. We will be telling our constituents that important issues have been addressed, when they have only been swept under the rug. Americans need to know that high-level waste will be stored safely, and that we’ve set the highest and best standards to protect the environment and human health when we build future storage and disposal sites. We must demand answers about whether a change in our nuclear storage policy is a wise decision. Are we burdening our regulators? Do we have the resources, both in dollars and personnel, to handle the task? And will we arrive at a better solution to the challenges of disposing our nation’s nuclear waste? I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.