A provision (Section 310) of the pending FY 2023 Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill would authorize and direct the opening of supposedly temporary nuclear waste dumps.
The Section 310 provision would trigger a dangerous, unnecessary, decades-long, massive high-level nuclear power waste transport campaign through most Congressional districts in the continental US, including through densely populated cities and productive farmland.
Congress must not undo protections in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with an obscure provision buried in the appropriations package. Shipping irradiated “spent” fuel and storing it at supposedly interim sites is dangerous and violates consent-based siting and environmental justice principles, as well as federal law.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) is the law establishing the federal government’s responsibility for managing high-level nuclear waste from commercial nuclear power and the nuclear weapons program. It prohibits the federal government from taking title to commercial high-level nuclear waste (irradiated or “spent” fuel) and transporting it to an interim storage site, unless and until a permanent geological repository is open and operating.
A provision (Section 310) of the Energy and Water Development bill from that came out the Senate Subcommittee on Energy is making an end-run around the NWPA. The pending provision in the FY 2023 Energy and Water appropriations bill would authorize and direct opening of consolidated “interim” storage sites (CISF) pilot projects with no limit on the amount of waste “notwithstanding any provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”
Congress knew what it was doing when it specifically excluded sending nuclear waste to temporary surface “parking lot” or shallowly buried “interim” storage facilities that can easily become de facto permanent storage in the absence of a permanent site. Section 310 is a backdoor, quiet attempt to reverse existing law and undermine Congressional intent. It has been stopped many times in past years….it must be removed this time again!
Opening CISFs would initiate many thousands of unsafe shipments of intensely radioactive nuclear power waste across most of the continental states and 75% or more of Congressional districts. Nuclear waste canisters and transport casks are subject to radiation leakage and other failures, which would pose threats to thousands of communities along the transportation routes. The large portion of high burnup irradiated (“spent”) fuel in the nation’s inventory compounds these safety problems. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recommends spending a minimum of a decade to develop better cask and canister designs before attempting to transport irradiated fuel. Yet CISF developers insist they will be open and start accepting shipments starting in 2023.
Loaded canisters plus transport casks weigh up to 180 metric tons, not counting the weight of the vehicles. US roads, rails, bridges, and other infrastructure can’t safely take that weight. Assuming they get upgraded through new infrastructure spending, which could take decades, that won’t make irradiated fuel transportation safe from collisions, terrorist attacks, fires, submersion, and leaking or failing canisters, which could lead to severe radiological releases.
Despite all this, Section 310 of the Senate FY 2023 appropriations bill for energy and water development authorizes the Secretary of Energy “to conduct a pilot program to license, construct, and operate one or more Federal consolidated storage facilities to provide interim storage as needed for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.” This is to be done “notwithstanding any provision of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.” It amounts to an end-run around the law, which Congress established for good reason, to protect the public and the environment.
It’s imperative not to preempt the NWPA with an obscure provision buried in the appropriations package. Shipping irradiated “spent” fuel and storing it at supposedly interim sites is dangerous and violates consent-based siting and environmental justice principles as well as federal law.