Copyright 1999 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service
FEBRUARY 10, 1999, WEDNESDAY
SECTION: IN THE NEWS
HEADLINE: PREPARED STATEMENT OF
OFFICE OF CIVILIAN RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND POWER
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am
pleased to appear before you today to review technical progress in the
Department's civilian radioactive waste management program and address the
interim storage legislation, H.R. 45, introduced by Representative Upton.
The Administration is committed to resolving the complex and important issue
of nuclear waste disposal in a manner consistent with sound science and
protection of the public health and safety, and the environment. The
Administration continues to believe that the Federal government's longstanding
commitment to permanent, geologic disposal should remain the basic goal of its
high-level radioactive waste management policy.
The repository effort is
essential not only for commercial spent fuel disposal but also to facilitate the
cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, further our nuclear nonproliferation
goals, and support our nuclear Navy's national defense mission. The Department
is committed to fulfill its responsibilities for the permanent disposal of the
Nation's spent fuel and the by-products of the Department's post-Co1d War
cleanup efforts in a manner that provides reasonable assurance that the public
and the environment will be adequately protected. Our policy of permanent
geologic disposal of this Nation's waste is also the technical foundation of our
international position on nuclear nonproliferation, our commitment to dispose of
U.S. fuel being returned from other countries, and our advocacy of limiting the
international trade in weapons materials. TheDepartment has made substantial
progress during the last six years in fulfilling these responsibilities.
pending legislation, H. R. 45, is very similar to legislation considered in the
last session of Congress, which the President stated he would veto. I will
address that legislation later in my testimony, but would first like to provide
a status report on the repository program.
STATUS REPORT ON THE
YUCCA MOUNTAIN PROGRAM
In December 1998, Secretary
Richardson submitted the Viability Assessment of a Repository at Yucca
Mountain to the Congress and the President.
Assessment provides policy makers such as this Subcommittee a technical status
report on work carried out to date at Yucca Mountain. The
Viability Assessment compiled a comprehensive description of the current design
and operational concept for a repository based on data and work over the last
decade. It assessed the potential performance of a repository concept in the
Yucca Mountain geologic setting and contained a cost estimate
and a plan for completing the license application.
The Viability Assessment
revealed that no "show stoppers" have been identified to date at Yucca
Mountain and the Secretary has concluded that scientific and technical
work should proceed at the site. It also identified issues that will need to be
addressed before a decision can be made on whether or not Yucca
Mountain should be recommended as a site for a repository. These issues
include the key natural processes in Yucca Mountain, such as
water movement, that would affect the long- term performance of the repository
and waste package designs.
We recognize that our assumptions and analyses
have yet to be challenged in a rigorous licensing proceeding before the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, and that additional work will need to be done in order to
assure success in order to meet the rigorous requirement of such a proceeding.We
are preparing the comprehensive technical documentation needed to complete the
site characterization of Yucca Mountain and to support the
Secretary's decision whether to recommend the site to the President in 2001. The
most challenging aspect of this effort is that we must provide scientific
reasonable assurance that a repository at Yucca Mountain will
adequately protect public health and safety and the environment for thousands of
years after the repository is closed.
This will be accomplished through a
scientific, probabilistic performance assessment that evaluates how a repository
system is likely to work over very long time periods. From the results of
scientific studies, analysts build detailed mathematical models of the features,
events, and processes that could affect the performance of the repository
design. They then incorporate the results into an overall model to assess how
the natural environment and engineered repository system are likely to work
together over the long period required to contain and minimize the release of
wastes into the environment.
Our studies have found that a repository at
Yucca Mountain would need to exhibit four key attributes to
protect public health and the environment for thousands of years. The four
attributes are limited water contact with waste packages, long waste package
lifetime, low rate of release of radionuclides from breached waste packages, and
reduction in the concentration of radionuclides as they are transported from
breached waste packages.
A reference design was developed for the viability
assessment to provide a consistent basis for making and comparing our
evaluations. Our design process has, and will continue, to evolve and consider
the potential advantages of alternative design features, concepts, and options.
For example, as we move towards the Secretary's site recommendation, we are
including additional factors in the design selection process. First, we want to
determine whether there are fundamentally different repository design concepts
that could meet performance standards more effectively and efficiently than the
reference design. Second, we will evaluate whether there aredesign features that
could be added or incorporated into either the reference design or any
alternative design with significant benefit. Lastly, we will consider whether
there are alternative concepts or features that, in addition to meeting
performance standards, could provide advantages with regard to operational,
budgetary and regulatory issues.
WASTE ACCEPTANCE LITIGATION
know, the Department is in litigation over our inability to meet our contractual
obligation to accept spent fuel from the nuclear utility companies by January
31, 1998. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that
the Department has an obligation to commence spent fuel disposal by January 31,
1998. The Court denied the utilities' and States' request for a move-fuel order,
finding that the Standard Disposal Contract provides a potentially adequate
remedy. The Court stated that the Department may not rely on the "unavoidable
delays" clause to excuse its delay in performance and suggested the "avoidable
delays" clause of the Standard Contract as the potentially adequate remedy. This
clause provides for an equitable adjustment of schedules and contract charges to
reflect any estimated additional costs incurred by the contract holder.
Pursuant to the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit, the Department will process claims presented to it under the standard
disposal contract. Although we have held settlement discussions with several
utilities, only one utility has proposed a bilateral modification and request
for equitable adjustment of the contract, and no formal claims have been filed.
To date, ten utilities have filed claims for monetary damages in the
U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In the first three cases decided by the Court, the
Department was found to have breached its contracts with three utilities, each
with only one shutdown reactor, and the Department is now engaged in discovery
to determine the amount of damages the Government must pay theseutilities. Other
cases, most involving utilities with operating reactors paying ongoing fees to
the Department, are currently pending.
THE ADMINISTRATION'S POSITION
REGARDING H.R. 45
The enactment of H.R. 45 could force the focus of our
waste management policy from geologic disposal to a short term solution by
requiring the Department to develop and commence operation of an interim storage
facility at the Nevada Test Site. The bill requires the Department to begin
accepting waste no later than June 30, 2003, and provides a defined acceptance
schedule for the interim storage of spent fuel in Nevada.
The bill would
undermine our ability to open the repository as scheduled in 2010 by shifting
budget priorities and work effort to an interim storage facility. For example,
it implies a delay of our proposed repository construction authorization license
application by over a year, with a target date of December 2003.
historical appropriations patterns, the proposed bill's funding provisions do
not provide sufficient funding resources to support the simultaneous
construction and operation of an interim storage facility and the repository
program, for which cost estimates have been provided in the Viability Assessment
and the recently issued Total System Life Cycle Cost report. If the Department
has responsibilities to comply with the interim storage facility and repository
funding provisions and schedules, enactment of the bill could result in a
funding gap of substantially over one billion dollars.
The Department also
believes that a waste acceptance deadline of June 2003 is very optimistic, given
the licensing and transportation activities that would have to be completed
prior to that date.The new interim storage legislation is essentially the same
as H. R. 1270, previously passed by the House, which the Administration made
clear the President would have vetoed. The Secretary opposes H. R. 45 and would
recommend to the President that he veto the legislation if Congress passes it in
its current form.
Specifically, the Administration opposes this legislation
because it would jeopardize the existing geologic disposal policy by forcing
resources to be redirected to interim storage development, rather than
completion by 2001 of the site characterization work needed to make a decision
on the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site. The Federal
government's longstanding commitment to permanent geologic disposal should
remain the basic goal of its high level radioactive waste management policy.
Permanent geologic disposal is also the approach preferred by the international
community for nuclear waste.
In addition, it would authorize the Secretary
to immediately begin site preparation for the construction of a centralized
interim storage facility within Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site regardless of
whether Yucca Mountain is found to be suitable for a permanent
repository. By doing so, H.R. 45 would undermine public confidence that a
repository evaluation will be objective and technically sound, and jeopardize
the credibility of any future decision on the suitability of the Yucca
The Program is reaching the
conclusion of our site characterization effort. Let us finish. The Viability
Assessment clarified the remaining work required and illuminated those technical
issues that should be addressed prior to determining if the site is suitable for
recommendation to the President. We are addressing these issues and have
commenced work on assembling the information required to support national
decisions on geologic disposal at Yucca Mountain.We are on
schedule to complete a draft repository environmental impact statement in July
1999; a final repository environmental impact statement in 2000; and the
Yucca Mountain site suitability in 2001. With sufficient
appropriations, and if the site is suitable, we are also on schedule to submit
the license application for repository construction to the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission in 2002 and begin emplacement of waste in the repository in 2010, if
the site is licensed.
We believe that H.R. 45 could undermine this progress
toward permanent geologic disposal, and could weaken the credibility of the
regulatory and institutional activities required to ensure adequate protection
of health, safety, and the environment - -jeopardizing the Nation's ability to
have any solution to our nuclear waste challenge. For these reasons, the
Administration opposes H. R. 45.
I would be happy to address any questions
that you may have.
LOAD-DATE: February 11, 1999