If H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments Acts of 2017, after it passed in the House of Representatives, continued on and passed in the Senate and was signed by the President, it would have given the Department of Energy permission to initiate a program to consolidate and temporarily store commercial spent nuclear fuel during development, construction, and operation of a permanent nuclear spent fuel repository. The bill would have provided a path forward for giving the DOE money out of the Nuclear Waste Fund — $36 billion that belongs to the DOE for spent nuclear fuel disposal in the first place.
All of this could have been accomplished, but the bill still hasn’t seen the light of day in the Senate.
Because of inaction in Congress, there is no plan in place for dealing with spent nuclear fuel. Spent nuclear fuel sits onsite at nuclear power plants and continues to sit on site at otherwise decommissioned sites of reactors. This inaction and the bind in which it puts the nuclear industry make it more difficult for companies to justify building reactors in the U.S. The U.S. is also falling behind the curve in terms of nuclear technologies, and this is partially because we are one of a few countries with no long-term solution for waste. Utilities are wary of building nuclear power plants because there is no guaranteed solution for disposing the spent nuclear fuel that will inevitably come out of the plant and need to be contained. This means that less nuclear plants are being built, which in turn means there are fewer companies developing advanced reactor technologies since there is a smaller chance of them being built, and the U.S. is missing out on a critical opportunity to get ahead of the curve on developing this technology.
H.R. 3053 needs to be passed in the 116th Congress so that the U.S. nuclear industry can finally fix this glaring problem.
The writer is policy coordinator for Generation Atomic. generationatomic.org