A provision (Section 308) of the pending FY 2022 Energy and Water appropriations bill would authorize and direct the opening of supposedly temporary nuclear waste dumps.
The Section 308 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 prohibiting the federal government from taking title to high-level nuclear waste (irradiated or “spent” fuel) on a privately owned interim storage site, unless and until a permanent geological repository is open and operating. This is to prevent sites from bringing in waste on a supposedly temporary basis and then those sites becoming de facto locations for permanant or indefinite waste storage, despite never being designed nor approved for long-term isolation of waste.
A provision (Section 308) 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 2022 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 308 is a backdoor, quiet attempt to reverse existing law and undermine Congressional intent.
Opening CISFs would initiate many thousands of unsafe shipments of intensely radioactive nuclear power waste across 44 states and 75% 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 (HBU) spent fuel in the nation’s SNF inventory compounds these safety problems. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recommends spending a minimum of a decade to develop better SNF cask and canister designs before attempting to transport spent 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 SNF transportation safe from collisions, terrorist attacks, fires, submersion, and leaking or failing canisters, which could lead to severe radiological releases.
Despite all this, Section 308 of S.2605, the FY22 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.
Tell President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and your representatives in Congress: “Drop wasteful, corrupt nuclear bailouts in the Build Back Better Act. Invest in American Jobs and a Just Transition to 100% Renewable Energy by 2035”