Congress has adjourned without managing to debate the Nuclear Waste Policy bill. The bill aims to end the impasse between electric utilities and the Department of Energy over what to do with spent fuel accumulating at nuclear plant sites long after the previously agreed date when the DoE was meant to remove it. Central to this is the establishment of a permanent geological repository at Yucca Mountain.
“There is no time left to do nuclear waste,” said a spokesman for Republican senator Frank Murkowski. “But we still have a year to do it in this Congress.” The bill is likely to be vetoed by the White House, as President Clinton opposes a provision that would allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), rather than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to set public exposure standards at Yucca Mountain. Last August the EPA proposed limits which the industry fears would require standards ‘cleaner than nature’. The EPA also proposed a separate ground water standard that the NRC considers unnecessary.
“Severe consequences loom on the horizon because of continued waiting,” said Steve Kerekes, of the Nuclear Energy Institute. He pointed out that the Prairie Island plant has already been threatened with cuts in output unless it can find more storage space.
The DoE is due to decide by 2001 whether to recommend Yucca Mountain to the White House as the site for the permanent repository.