Testimony on Behalf of the National Conference of State Legislatures to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear

Delegate Sally Young Jameson, Maryland
Chair, NCSL Agriculture and Energy Standing Committee

May 25, 2010 

Good morning Chairman Hamilton, Chairman Scowcroft and members of the Commission. I am Sally Jameson, Chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Agriculture and Energy Standing Committee and a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. I appear before you today on behalf of NCSL, a bi-partisan organization representing the 50 state legislatures and the legislatures of our nation’s commonwealths, territories and the District of Columbia. 

Chairman Hamilton and Chairman Scowcroft, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify and share with you and the other members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future information about NCSL’s work on nuclear energy issues facing the nation including waste disposition and storage and the future of new reactors.  

NCSL has a long history of working on nuclear energy issues. NCSL has a working group comprised of state legislators from across the country who discuss issues surrounding nuclear energy including the safe handling, storage and transportation of waste. This long-standing group meets twice a year and also helps to form NCSL policy resolutions on this and other topics. I am a member of this working group and have valued the opportunity to discuss these important issues with my peers from around the country. I also have the privilege of serving on the NCSL Energy Supply Task Force created in 2009 by the NCSL Executive Committee to explore current energy policies in the United States, prepare a report and make recommendations for changes to current NCSL policy related to energy issues. The NCSL Energy Supply Task Force has met four times in the last six months and is on schedule to release its report in conjunction with the NCSL Legislative Summit this July. 

NCSL recognizes that nuclear power is an integral part of a national energy plan but also understands the need to address certain issues including transportation, storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel.  

State legislators can and do play a significant role in developing nuclear energy policy, whether it be in statehouses across the country, town hall meetings with our constituents or meetings with our respective Congressional delegation, we recognize the importance of these issues and have valued the relationship we have had in the past with the U.S. Department of Energy. Over the last year there has been a significant reduction in the department’s state legislative outreach and legislators have felt that they have had to fight for a seat at the table. 

It is critical that the Commission recognize the value of a strong partnership with state legislators who can help move policy forward in the states and in Congress. Together we can work on behalf of our mutual interests and common goals. As you are aware, NCSL has several applicable policy resolutions on these topics, which have been submitted along with my written remarks to the Commission in advance of this meeting. NCSL’s recently reauthorized Radioactive Waste Management Policy and National Energy Policy serve as foundation of the NCSL recommendations to the Commission. 

NCSL urges the federal government to develop a program for the long-term treatment and disposal of high-level radioactive waste, funded by the generators of the waste. This should be pursued with the highest priority given to the safe reprocessing or transportation of waste and to the safety and technical suitability of storage or disposal sites. Such a program should be developed in full consultation with all of the affected states. The nuclear power plant licensing process for future plant construction must be improved to ensure both public input and timely decisions, and federally standardized nuclear power plant designs should be established. 

NCSL urges Congress to move forward with steps to enable private, Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed, interim storage facilities for used nuclear fuel in the United States. Given the administration’s decision regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository it is imperative for Congress to take the needed steps to address the nation’s current and future needs in managing used nuclear fuel.    NCSL calls on Congress and the administration to conduct research to identify, develop and license a high-level waste and used nuclear fuel disposal facility. During this process NCSL urges Congress, the Department of Energy and the Blue Ribbon Commission to keep state legislatures informed and consult with them regularly to ensure the states play an integral role in the determination of site selection criteria. 

NCSL urges Congress to enact legislation to classify annual funding from the Nuclear Waste Fund as mandatory spending and ensure that levels are adequate to meet the changing needs of the program as DOE and the Blue Ribbon Commission move from an investigatory role and begin the licensing and construction process of a repository.  NCSL also firmly believes that Congress must restore adequate funding to the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. 

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, it is clearly stated that the Department of Energy will work with states, including state legislators.    Following the decision in 2009 to terminate funding to the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, outreach to states, including state legislators, has been significantly reduced. NCSL strongly urges the Blue Ribbon Commission to ensure that this requirement is adhered to in the future. 

As long-term storage solutions are developed, NCSL supports action at the federal level that would develop a plan by which the country can move forward with interim storage facilities. Interim storage facilities located in voluntary host communities are a viable option that can be pursued. Such communities exist and are ready to step forward. NCSL has worked tirelessly over the last several years to educate and inform state legislators on these issues and through these efforts we have arrived at the conclusion that identifying one or more locations for interim storage is possible. 

Furthermore, NCSL supports the availability of financing mechanisms and incentives, through the Nuclear Waste Fund, to these voluntary host communities. These kinds of incentives have been contemplated in legislation previously introduced in Congress. 

We also believe that the role of the Department of Energy, in this regard, should be defined. DOE should work with current owners of used nuclear fuel and potential facility licensees to affect transport and resolve contractual liability issues. It is possible that DOE could lease space at these private interim storage facilities for used commercial nuclear fuel. 

NCSL strongly recommends that used fuel sitting at decommissioned or shut down nuclear reactor sites in Maine, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Oregon, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois, California and Massachusetts should be the first material to move to these facilities, enabling those states to complete the cleanup process of their reactor sites.

NCSL stands ready to work with the Blue Ribbon Commission to ensure that state policymakers are involved in creating a timely, cost-effective solution to this important public policy challenge and break the logjam in the United States on this issue.