By Mark Wolf
Nuclear plants provide 20 percent of the nation's power carbon-free but the industry faces a significant challenge: what to do with spent nuclear fuel.
"Spent fuels is a big challenge," said Brad Sawatzke, chief operating officer and chief nuclear officer with Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia Generation Station nuclear plant in Richland, Wash., said during a discussion at NCSL's Capitol Forum, Sunday in Coronado, Calif.
"Until we get a national policy it puts our industry at risk by being hewld back until we figure what to do with spent fuel."
Energy Northwest also generates power from hydroelectricity, solar and wind but, Sawatzke said, "you can't manage a grid based on what the weather does."
All the used nuclear fuel generated, if stacked would only cover one football field 10 yards high, Sawatzke said, but where to put that fuel, currently stored in more than 70 sites across the country, is contentious.
Yucca Mountain, on federal land about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas near the California/Nevada border, was long considered as a site for a permanent nuclear spent fuel repository. The site was killed by the Obama administration in 2010 but has been revived by the Trump administration this year. HR 3053 would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing process.
Rodney McCullum, senior director of used fuel and decommissioning at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the industry hopes to get HR 3053 passed by the end of the year.
"The cost of doing nothing vastly exceeds the cost of doing something," he said.
However, Nevada Senator Pat Spearman (D), who is co-majority whip, gave voice to the strong opposition in her state to the Yucca Mountain site.
"It's not going to happen," Spearman said. "We will fight like junkyard doges. Put it someplace else, open up the bidding. What state wants it? I promise you if that passes, it will be one of the front-and-center issues in 2018.
"All the people who vote for it, put it in their states. We don’t want it. We've been clear about that and they keep trying to shove it down our throat."
Mark Wolf is the editor of the NCSL Blog.