What does this mountain way out in the Nevada desert have to do with Illinois? A lot more than you might think, actually.
It all goes back to 1987, when Yucca Mountain was selected to be studied for use as a permanent repository for used fuel from nuclear power plants, and for radioactive waste from our atomic weapons program and nuclear Navy. The federal government was supposed to start collecting that waste in 1998; but 20 years later, not one ounce of it has been moved to the mountain repository.
So the nuclear waste piles up. It piles up on the shores of Lake Michigan, on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and on the rivers of the Southeast. All totaled, it has piled up in 121 communities across 39 states. And as my subcommittee’s ranking Democrat said last week, “Regardless of your position on nuclear energy, we have to acknowledge the reality that tens of thousands of tons of waste already exist.”
The inability to deal with that growing challenge comes at great cost to taxpayers and breaks a promise to electricity consumers who invested in a permanent solution. Taxpayers are now forced to cough up more than $2.2 million every single day because of the delays, and Illinois ratepayers have contributed more than $2.3 billion – the most of any state – to the more than $40 billion collected to build the repository at Yucca Mountain.
I’ve been working to solve this problem for many years, so I’m excited that last week Congress took a big step in the right direction. On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed my bill, H.R. 3053, in a 340-72 vote.
My bill protects electricity consumers by ensuring previously collected nuclear waste fees remain available to fund the disposal program; it authorizes interim storage sites to more quickly reduce taxpayer liabilities; and it helps finish the scientific review of the Yucca Mountain repository.
You can learn more about the bill here: energycommerce.house.gov/nwpaa/
As the House debated the legislation, opponents focused on two main points. They argued that transporting nuclear waste wasn’t safe, and that Nevadans were uniformly and adamantly opposed to hosting the repository. Neither, however, is the case.
The reality is thousands of shipments of used nuclear fuel have been moved around the country over the last 40 years without incident, mostly by rail but also by truck and barge. In fact, the transportation storage casks are not only designed to survive extreme conditions in the 1 in a 1,000,000,000 chance of an accident, they limit radiation exposure from routine transportation to 1/1000 of the amount of radiation people receive from background sources each year.
Many Nevadans have likewise looked past the fear-mongering and support finishing the debate on Yucca Mountain. Nine out of 16 Nevada counties have passed resolutions in support of finishing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process for the repository. That process allows opponents, including the state government, to have their contentions heard in a court-like proceeding before administrative judges who are lawyers, engineers and scientists.
The federal government has a moral responsibility to solve this national challenge. That’s why I’ll keep working to follow the law, finish the science and protect taxpayers, electricity consumers and communities.