Wyden seeks new nuclear waste agency

Oregon congressman's draft legislation addresses disposal

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photoU.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon

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A discussion draft of legislation to address the storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel and waste — including Hanford waste — has been released by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is working with three other Democratic and Republican senators.

It would establish a new federal agency for nuclear waste administration and require local and state consent for building temporary storage facilities and long-term repositories for waste disposal.

The plan builds on the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which was established after the Obama administration shut down work toward making Yucca Mountain, Nev., the nation's repository for used commercial nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from weapons production.

The Department of Energy already has released its strategy for addressing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission, including a goal of having a site picked for a repository by 2026 and the repository operating by 2048.

"Our country can't wait any longer to find a long-term solution for disposing of nuclear waste," Wyden said in a statement.

"I'm hopeful the feedback we receive will help us finish the job and allow us to move forward with legislation that puts the U.S. back on the path to safely managing and permanently disposing of the most radioactive wastes," he said.

At Hanford, waste destined for a national repository includes used nuclear fuel never processed to remove weapons plutonium, as well as high-level radioactive waste now held in underground tanks that will be turned into stable glass logs at the vitrification plant.U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., criticized the draft legislation, saying it circumvents Yucca Mountain — the national repository under law — and supports what he calls the illegal shutdown of Yucca Mountain.

"Distracting focus from a permanent repository through interim storage gimmicks, taking us back to square one with an unrealistic siting process and punting a permanent repository off until 2048 is wholly unacceptable," Hastings said in a statement.

Talk of a consent-based process for picking the sites for temporary storage and then a permanent repository also rankles the Tri-City Development Council.

Because most of the defense-related nuclear waste destined for Yucca Mountain already is at Hanford, it may continue to be stored at Hanford for decades to come, making it a de facto temporary storage site for the nation.

If the waste stays at Hanford until 2048, that would be 104 years after the waste was created, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.

There has been no vote of Congress to essentially make Hanford a temporary storage site and no input from the community, Petersen said.

Governors and legislators who may agree to allow a repository in their state would be long out of office when the repository begins operations decades from now, Petersen said.

"What's to say there is not another Nevada?" he asked. Nevada fought bitterly against allowing a repository there.