TELL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: DEFEND THE NUCLEAR WASTE POLICY ACT
No Backdoor Authorization of Illegal Consolidated Interim Storage Facilities Through The Appropriations Process
The NRC is about to license a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) to store irradiated nuclear fuel, also euphemistically known as “spent” nuclear fuel or SNF. It’s located in Andrews County, Texas, on the New Mexico border. It would provide outdoor surface storage for 40,000 metric tons of this highly radioactive, dangerous nuclear waste from nuclear power plants, in canisters sitting on a concrete pad.
Nuclear facilities are supposed to be consent-based. Texas does not consent to the CISF. In fact, the Texas legislature just passed a law nearly unanimously that prohibits storage of disposal of this waste in the state.
Nuclear facilities are also supposed to comply with federal law. The Texas CISF does not. In fact, it blatantly violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The NWPA specifically prohibits the federal government from taking title to high-level waste on a privately owned interim storage site, unless and until a permanent geological repository is open and operating. That’s so so-called “interim” storage sites do not become de facto permanent, surface “parking lot” dumps for highly radioactive nuclear fuel. It would be cheaper, even lucrative, for nuclear plant owners and CISF licensees, to ship and dispose of the fuel this way, but it would be irresponsible and threaten current and future public health and safety.
Now Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is trying to make an end-run around the law. Its pending appropriations bill would authorize CISF pilot projects, “notwithstanding any provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”
Call your Congressional representatives in Washington and tell them that CISFs are illegal and unacceptable, not only in Texas, but for the thousands of communities along the transport routes, and across the US. Defend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and say “no” to CISFs. Below is a sample letter you can personalize and send to your representatives in the House and Senate.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is starting to approve licenses for consolidated interim storage facilities (CISFs) to store highly radioactive irradiated fuel, also known as “spent” nuclear fuel, despite the fact these facilities violate federal and state laws. Congress must not compound the NRC’s error by approving CISFs through the backdoor of the appropriations process.
On or about September 14, the NRC will announce license approval for a CISF in Andrews County, Texas: the Interim Storage Partners project. It would provide outdoor surface storage for 40,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel in canisters on a concrete pad.
On September 9, Governor Abbott signed a law banning storage or disposal of high-level radioactive waste, including irradiated nuclear fuel, in the state, and directing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny state permits the ISP project needs. The measure passed unanimously in the Texas Senate and 119-3 in the Texas House. Resolutions opposing importing nuclear waste from other states to Texas were also passed by Andrews County, five other counties, and three cities, representing 5.4 million Texans. School districts, the Midland Chamber of Commerce, and oil and gas and ranching companies have joined environmental and faith-based groups in opposing the ISP project.
Siting of US nuclear facilities including CISFs is supposed to be consent-based. Texas has made it clear it emphatically does not consent to importing and storing irradiated nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste.
Meanwhile, federal lawsuits are pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which would block the ISP project and other CISFs on the grounds that they violate federal law, specifically the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as Amended (NWPA). CISFs are predicated on the idea that the Department of Energy will enable SNF transportation by taking title to the waste as it leaves the reactor site, thus relieving licensees of their liability for it. But this is specifically prohibited by the NWPA unless and until a geologic repository is open and operating. That remains many decades away. The CISF licensing process has been pushed ahead anyway, on the abusive assumption the law will change.
But Congress knew what it was doing when it specifically excluded sending SNF 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 geologic repository. Current efforts to license CISFs subverts Congress’s clear intent of preventing them.
Opening CISFs would initiate many thousands of unsafe shipments of intensely radioactive SNF across 44 states and 75% of Congressional districts. SNF 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 2003.
Loaded SNF canisters plus transport casks weigh close to 200 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 ISP’s facility or other at other CISFs is unsafe, and violates consent-based siting and environmental justice principles as well as federal law.
And it’s unnecessary. A far safer approach is to make onsite storage more robust, improving currently inadequate dry storage and security systems and keep the waste on reactor sites until a permanent geologic repository opens. This hardened on-site storage (HOSS) strategy has been endorsed by 200 groups, in all 50 states. The waste would be shipped to off-site storage once a geologic repository opens, using cask and transportation safety technologies that must evolve far beyond where they are now. For especially vulnerable sites where HOSS may not be a good option, for example on the coast or in flood zones, then hardened near-site storage – shipping the waste inland, or to higher ground, as near to the point of generation as possible, is the next best thing.
Nuclear licensees don’t want to implement HOSS because it costs them money, and because they want to offload the liability for the waste to the federal government – socializing the costs and risks after privatizing the profits. At the same time, CISF storage could be a major source of new public money for them.
But public health and safety, not the interests of the nuclear industry, are paramount when it comes to disposition of nuclear waste. CISFs may be lucrative for the industry, but they are not the answer for American communities and families. The safest way to deal with irradiated nuclear fuel is to improve storage systems, implement HOSS, and keep the waste on reactor sites until a geologic repository opens, then only move it once, not twice.
For these reasons, we urge Congress to respect and uphold the NWPA, and not evade it by approving Section 308 of S.2605.