WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), introduced the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019. The legislation provides practical reforms to the nation’s nuclear waste management policy to ensure the federal government’s legal obligations to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste are fulfilled. Barrasso’s bill was introduced in the Senate shortly after the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed bipartisan legislation by voice vote. Barrasso’s legislation is cosponsored by Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND). 

“If we’re serious about reducing carbon emissions in a meaningful way, we need to get serious about dealing with nuclear waste,” said Barrasso. “Nuclear power is America’s largest source of carbon-free energy, but it leaves left over spent fuel. Right now, that nuclear waste and high-level radioactive material is being stored in 39 different states. 

“My legislation will advance the safety review of the Yucca Mountain facility. It also takes important steps to strengthen the nation’s nuclear waste management program. The House of Representatives has advanced a bipartisan bill out of committee. I look forward to gaining similar bipartisan support in the Senate.” 

The draft legislation mirrors the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, introduced last Congress by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL-15). Last year, that legislation passed the House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 340-72. 

The legislation will: 

  • Assist in the resolution of the pending Yucca Mountain license, which will allow the formal licensing process to determine if the repository can be licensed and constructed;
  • Reform a broken financing mechanism to protect ratepayers and assure DOE has adequate funding to construct and operate a multi-generational infrastructure project;
  • Direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to move forward with a temporary storage program to consolidate spent nuclear fuel from sites with a decommissioned reactor while work on the Yucca Mountain repository progresses, including the authority to enter into a contract with a non-federal entity;
  • Provide the state of Nevada and local stakeholders the opportunity to beneficially engage with the Federal government as the host State for the repository;
  • Provide the most expeditious pathway to remove defense-waste from DOE sites; and
  • Strengthen DOE program management and organization to more effectively implement its nuclear waste program.

Read the legislation here

Background Information:

On April 24, 2019, Barrasso released discussion draft legislation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019. 

On May 1, 2019, the EPW Committee held a legislative hearing on Barrasso’s discussion draft legislation.  

On May 29, 2019, Barrasso wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Get Serious about Burying Nuclear Waste.”

Spent nuclear fuel sits idle in 121 communities across 39 states because the country has not fulfilled its obligation to develop a permanent geologic repository to dispose of the waste. 

The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and many others have called for the federal government to proceed with the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain facility.